Many voters, including Ahmadinejad, boycott ‘sham’ Iran election

1 / 3
A voter fills out her ballot papers at a polling station during the presidential elections in Tehran. (AP)
2 / 3
Voters queue at a polling station during the presidential elections in Tehran. (AP)
3 / 3
Ebrahim Raisi, a candidate in Iran's presidential elections waves to the media after casting his vote at a polling station in Tehran. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 19 June 2021
Follow

Many voters, including Ahmadinejad, boycott ‘sham’ Iran election

  • Despite polling stations across 220 cities in 31 provinces, presidential election met with widespread boycott
  • Some polls virtually deserted as apathy grows over a presidential vote tipped in favor of hard-line candidate Ebrahim Raisi

JEDDAH: As Iranian state TV showed people streaming to cast their ballots on Friday and news anchors praising the voters, very different scenes played out on the streets of Tehran, where many polling places appeared relatively empty.

Amid rising anger and apathy over a presidential vote tipped in favor of Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-line judiciary chief cultivated by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the election atmosphere was distinctly subdued, the Associated Press reported.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about the exercise of voting.

“Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve the problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again are disappointed.”

At 16 different polling stations across Tehran, witnesses described lines of voters as “short” as no more than eight voters at a time could be seen casting ballots.

Some polls remained virtually deserted throughout the day. Listless poll workers listened to state radio, looked at their phones, or chatted calmly.

Farid Mahoutchi, the spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a Europe-based opposition group, said that according to reports, pictures, and video clips from polling stations across 220 cities in 31 provinces, the “sham” election was met with a widespread boycott.

Reports from polling station staff in many areas of Tehran, such as the Qamar Bani Hashem Mosque, Armaghan Alam, and polling stations in Tehran’s second district, which includes 64 polling stations, show participation was very meager.

“None of the candidates are trustworthy,” said Nasrin, a 31-year-old accountant in central Tehran.

Another passerby in a middle-class Tehran district, Rojin Ahmadi, 23, said: “None of them dared to offer a plan to show they would bring the country into normalcy.”

Ahmadi said she did not cast a vote.

Former hard-line populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seized on popular anger by repeating his decision to stay home and not vote. He warned that the heavily restricted process will produce a government without domestic or international legitimacy.

“I am not going to vote. And the main reason is that I am witnessing a major part of the people is put aside,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

“A weak government is coming to power. And a weak government will weaken the situation in Iran. It will weaken the domestic situation and it will weaken our relations with the world. It will turn our relations with the rest of the world against Iran.”

In Lebanon, the Iranian Embassy set up three polling stations — one inside the embassy and the others in the city of Nabatiyeh in southern Lebanon and in the city of Baalbek.

When asked about the number of Iranians in Lebanon, a media official from the embassy told Arab News: “Disclosing this number is not in the embassy’s interest.”

The turnout was low in Nabatiyeh despite many families of Iranian origin residing in the area.


Nicaragua accuses Germany of helping ‘genocide’ in Gaza in ICJ case

Updated 26 sec ago
Follow

Nicaragua accuses Germany of helping ‘genocide’ in Gaza in ICJ case

  • Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch this week said Israel is disregarding the ICJ’s interim order by limiting humanitarian aid to Gaza

THE HAGUE: Nicaragua on Friday accused Germany of facilitating “genocide” in Gaza in a case started in the International Court of Justice, by giving support to Israel and suspending funding of the UN Palestinian refugee agency.
Through those measures, “Germany is facilitating the commission of genocide and, in any case has failed in its obligation to do everything possible to prevent the commission of genocide,” Nicaragua argued in a filing published by the Hague-based court.
Nicaragua was asking the court to take a swift interim stance against Germany before the case was given in-depth study by judges.
The lodging of the case follows the ICJ saying on January 26 that Israel must do everything to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza and take “immediate” measures for aid provisions.
That interim order was given as the court moves to weigh in full a case lodged in December by South Africa alleging that Israel was engaged in genocide in Gaza.
Israel has dismissed South Africa’s case as a “grossly distorted story.”
ICJ rulings are legally binding but the court has no enforcement mechanism.
Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch this week said Israel is disregarding the ICJ’s interim order by limiting humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Accusations from Israel that staff from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, took part in the October 7 Hamas attacks against Israeli communities prompted several countries, including Germany, Britain, Japan and the United States, to suspend their funding.
On Friday, the European Commission emphasized that it was maintaining its funding of UNRWA while reviewing arrangements in light of the Israeli allegation.
The commission said it was releasing 50 million euros ($54 million) to the UN agency next week with a further 32 million euros to follow later.
Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 that Israel says are presumed dead.
The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza on Friday gave the death toll in the strip from the unrelenting Israeli retaliation as 30,228, mostly women and children.
On Friday a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office OCHA said that “if something doesn’t change, a famine is almost inevitable” in the besieged territory.
 

 


Elon Musk sues OpenAI and CEO Sam Altman, claiming betrayal of its goal to benefit humanity

Updated 17 min 27 sec ago
Follow

Elon Musk sues OpenAI and CEO Sam Altman, claiming betrayal of its goal to benefit humanity

Elon Musk is suing OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman over what he says is a betrayal of the ChatGPT maker’s founding aims of benefiting humanity rather than pursuing profits.
In a lawsuit filed at San Francisco Superior Court, billionaire Musk said that when he bankrolled OpenAI’s creation, he secured an agreement with Altman and Greg Brockman, the president, to keep the AI company as a nonprofit that would develop technology for the benefit of the public.
Under its founding agreement, OpenAI would also make its code open to the public instead of walling it off for any private company’s gains, the lawsuit says.
However, by embracing a close relationship with Microsoft, OpenAI and its top executives have set that pact “aflame” and are “perverting” the company’s mission, Musk alleges in the lawsuit.
OpenAI declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday.
“OpenAI, Inc. has been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft,” the lawsuit filed Thursday says. “Under its new Board, it is not just developing but is actually refining an AGI to maximize profits for Microsoft, rather than for the benefit of humanity.”

REUTERS illustration

AGI refers to artificial general intelligence, which are general purpose AI systems that can perform just as well as — or even better than — humans in a wide variety of tasks.
Musk is suing over breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and unfair business practices. He also wants an injunction to prevent anyone, including Microsoft, from benefiting from OpenAI’s technology.
Those claims are unlikely to succeed in court but that might not be the point for Musk, who is getting his take and personal story on the record, said Anupam Chander, a law professor at Georgetown University.
“Partly there’s an assertion of Elon’s founding role in OpenAI and generative AI technology, in particularly his claim he named OpenAI and he hired the key scientist and that he was the primary funder of its early years,” Chander said. “In some sense it’s a lawsuit that tries to establish his own place in the history of generative AI.”
Musk was an early investor in OpenAI when it was founded in 2015 and co-chaired its board alongside Altman. In the lawsuit, he said he invested “tens of millions” of dollars in the nonprofit research laboratory.
Musk resigned from the board in early 2018 in a move that OpenAI said at the time would prevent conflicts of interest as the Tesla CEO was recruiting AI talent to build self-driving technology at the electric car maker. “This will eliminate a potential future conflict for Elon,” OpenAI said in a February 2018 blog post. Musk has since said he also had disagreements with the startup’s direction, but he continued to donate to the nonprofit.
Later that year, OpenAI filed papers to incorporate a for-profit arm and began shifting most of its workforce to that business, but retained a nonprofit board of directors that governed the company. Microsoft made its first $1 billion investment in the company in 2019 and the next year, signed an agreement that gave the software giant exclusive rights to its AI models. That license is supposed to expire once OpenAI has achieved artificial general intelligence, the company has said.

ChatGPT-maker OpenAI is looking to fuse its artificial intelligence systems into the bodies of humanoid robots as part of a new deal with robotics startup Figure. (AP/File)

Its unveiling of ChatGPT in late 2022 bought worldwide fame to OpenAI and helped spark a race by tech companies to capitalize on the public’s fascination with the technology.
When the nonprofit board abruptly fired Altman as CEO late last year, for reasons that still haven’t been fully disclosed, it was Microsoft that helped drive the push that brought Altman back as CEO and led most of the old board to resign. Musk’s lawsuit alleged that those changes caused the checks and balances protecting the nonprofit mission to “collapse overnight.”
One of Musk’s claims is that the directors of the nonprofit have failed to uphold their obligations to follow its mission, but Dana Brakman Reiser, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, is skeptical that Musk had standing to bring that claim.
“It would be very worrisome if every person who cared about or donated to a charity could suddenly sue their directors and officers to say, ‘You’re not doing what I think is the right thing to run this nonprofit,’” she said. In general, only other directors or an attorney general, for example, could bring that type of suit, she said.
Even if Musk invested in the for-profit business, his complaint seems to be that the organization is making too much profit in contradiction to its mission, which includes making its technology publicly available.
“I care about nonprofits actually following the mission that they set out and not being captured for some kind for profit purpose. That is a real concern,” Brakman Reiser said. “Whether Elon Musk is the person to raise that claim, I’m less sure.”
Whatever the legal merits of the claims, a brewing courtroom fight between Musk and Altman could offer the public a peek into the internal debates and decision-making at OpenAI, though the company’s lawyers will likely fight to keep some of those documents confidential.
“The discovery will be epic,” posted venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya on Musk’s social media platform X on Friday. To which Musk replied in his only public commentary so far on the case: “Yes.”
 


Hamas armed wing says seven hostages killed in Gaza

Updated 26 min 6 sec ago
Follow

Hamas armed wing says seven hostages killed in Gaza

  • Israeli officials have generally declined to respond to Hamas’ public messaging on the hostages, casting it as psychological warfare

CAIRO: Seven hostages who have been held in Gaza were killed as a result of the Israeli military’s bombardment of the enclave, Abu Ubaida, the spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing Al-Qassam brigades said on Friday.
He did not include details, like a timeline, backing up the claim.
The Al-Qassam brigades claimed that the number of hostages killed due to Israel’s military operations in Gaza has now exceeded 70 captives, Abu Ubaida added in a statement on Telegram.
Israeli officials have generally declined to respond to Hamas’ public messaging on the hostages, casting it as psychological warfare.
Israel’s military campaign follows Hamas militants’ killing of 1,200 people in southern Israel and the abduction of at least 250 on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel has responded with a military assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
During a week-long truce in late November, Hamas freed more than 100 Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for Israel releasing about 240 Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas at the outset of the war threatened to execute hostages in retaliation for Israeli military strikes, and Israel has accused it of having executed at least two of the dead hostages recovered by the Israeli military.

 


Iranians vote in elections as conservatives expected to dominate

Updated 55 min 12 sec ago
Follow

Iranians vote in elections as conservatives expected to dominate

  • Iran has also been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis
  • Fearing escalation, Iraq asked Iran to help rein in groups

TEHRAN: Iranians voted on Friday in elections for parliament and a key clerical body, amid fears of a low turnout and with conservatives expected to tighten their grip on power.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called for a strong turnout, was the first to cast his ballot. He vote at a polling station in central Tehran, state television reported.
The elections are the first in Iran since widespread protests erupted after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, following her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
Since the last elections, Iran has also been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis.
More than 61 million of Iran’s 85 million people are eligible to vote for members of parliament as well as the clerics of the Assembly of Experts, which selects Iran’s supreme leader.
There were fears of a low turnout, however, after a state TV poll found more than half of respondents were indifferent about the elections.
“Suppose that I vote: what would it change?” asked a 21-year-old from Kurdistan province who gave her name only as Hanna, for fear of reprisals. “They (the elected officials) do not respect their promises.”
Her comments were echoed by Hashem, a 32-year-old from the southwestern province of Khuzestan. “The problem with the elections is that people are not happy with this system because of the political and economic situation,” he said.
Another voter, Moradiani from south Tehran, said she would heed Khamenei’s call to vote.
“The leader said that participating in the elections is an obligation,” she said, “just as it is obligatory for us to pray.”
Polls closed at midnight (2030 GMT), after voting hours were extended several times during the day, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Local Fars news agency estimated the turnout to stand at “more than 40 percent.”
“The plan to boycott the elections, designed by foreign enemies and their internal supporters, failed with the participation of around 25 million people,” it said, without elaborating

Iran’s last parliamentary election in 2020 saw turnout of 42.57 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Hadi Tahan Nazif, spokesman for the Guardian Council which vets candidates, voiced optimism about Friday’s turnout, saying it was “even better” than four years ago.
Khamenei had on Friday appealed for people to vote, saying: “Onlookers from all over observe the affairs of our country; make (Iran’s) friends happy and ill-wishers disappointed.”
The supreme leader had previously warned that Iran’s “enemies want to see if the people are present.” Otherwise, he added, “they will threaten your security in one way or another.”
Those watching, he said, included the United States, “most of the Europeans, evil Zionists, capitalists and big companies.”
Iran considers the United States, its Western allies and Israel “enemies” of the state and accuses them of seeking to intervene in its internal affairs.
On the eve of the elections, the United States said they would be unfair.
“I have no expectation that Iran’s elections will be free and fair, and I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.
Candidates for parliament are vetted by the Guardian Council, whose members are either appointed or approved by the supreme leader.
They have approved a total of 15,200 candidates, out of nearly 49,000 applicants, to run for seats in the 290-member parliament.
Conservatives and ultra-conservatives, who hold 232 out 290 seats in the 2020 parliament after reformist and moderate candidates were disqualified, are expected by analysts to dominate once again.
A coalition of parties called the Reform Front said it would not take part in “meaningless, non-competitive and ineffective elections.”

Former Iranian president, the reformist Mohammad Khatami, was quoted in February by the conservative Javan daily as saying that Iran was “very far from free and competitive elections.”
Conservatives are also expected to maintain a firm grip on the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member body exclusively made up of male Islamic scholars.
A total of 144 candidates are running but many hopefuls were disqualified, including moderate former president Hassan Rouhani.
The Israel-Hamas war has sent tensions in the region soaring, with pro-Tehran groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen all involved in clashes with either Israel or its Western allies.
The elections also take place amid crippling international sanctions and mounting economic hardship in Iran, where inflation has hovered around 50 percent and the rial has sharply depreciated against the dollar.
“The prices are extremely high and continue to increase,” Masoumeh, a 40-year-old housewife, told AFP in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar ahead of the vote.
“I don’t think that the representatives who will be elected will be able to improve this situation.”
 


Biden says ‘hoping’ for Gaza ceasefire deal by Ramadan

Updated 02 March 2024
Follow

Biden says ‘hoping’ for Gaza ceasefire deal by Ramadan

  • Biden had said at the beginning of this week that he expected a deal by Monday for a six-week halt in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but has steadily walked back the timeline

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden said Friday he was “hoping” for a ceasefire deal in the Israel-Hamas conflict by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan but agreement was still not sealed.
“I’m hoping so, we’re still working real hard on it. We’re not there yet,” he told reporters at the White House when asked if he expected a deal by Ramadan, which will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
“We’ll get there but we’re not there yet — we may not get there,” Biden added, without elaborating, as he headed to his helicopter to spend the weekend at the presidential Camp David retreat.
Biden had said at the beginning of this week that he expected a deal by Monday for a six-week halt in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but has steadily walked back the timeline.
The 81-year-old Democrat announced earlier Friday that the United States would soon start airdropping aid to Gaza, a day after dozens of desperate Palestinians were killed rushing an aid convoy.
Biden has said the incident could complicate talks, but would not comment Friday on what was holding up a deal, adding: “I’m not going to tell you that because that’ll get involved in the negotiations.”