Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

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In this file photo taken on June 18, 2021 Iranian ultraconservative cleric and presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi waves after casting his ballot for presidential election, in the capital Tehran. (AFP)
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A woman examines a ballot before casting it at a polling station in Iran's capital Tehran on June 18, 2021, during the 2021 presidential election. (File/AFP)
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Updated 19 June 2021

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

  • Hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi was seen as all but certain to emerge victorious
  • Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined those who said they would not cast their ballot

TEHRAN: Congratulations poured in for Iranian ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday for winning presidential elections even before official results were announced.
Iran’s outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani said his successor had been elected in the previous day’s vote, without naming the widely expected winner, Raisi.
“I congratulate the people on their choice,” said Rouhani. “My official congratulations will come later, but we know who got enough votes in this election and who is elected today by the people.”

The other two ultraconservative candidates – Mohsen Rezai and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi – explicitly congratulated Raisi.
“I congratulate ... Raisi, elected by the nation,” Ghazizadeh-Hashemi said, quoted by Iranian media.
And Rezai tweeted that he hoped Raisi could build “a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems”.
The only reformist in the race, former central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, also tweeted his congratulations to Raisi.
Raisi, 60, would take over from moderate Rouhani at a time the Islamic republic is seeking to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a painful economic downturn.
Raisi, the head of the judiciary whose black turban signifies direct descent from Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, is seen as close to the 81-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate political power in Iran.
The moderate candidate in Iran’s presidential election has conceded he lost to the country’s hard-line judiciary chief.
Former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati wrote on Instagram to judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi early Saturday.
Hemmati wrote: “I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran.”
Voting on Friday was extended by two hours past the original midnight deadline amid fears of a low turnout of 50 percent or less.
Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls was winnowed down to seven candidates, all men, excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.
Three of the vetted candidates dropped out of the race two days before Friday’s election, and two of them threw their support behind Raisi.
Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of those who were disqualified by the powerful 12-member Guardian Council of clerics and jurists, joined those who said they would not cast their ballot.
Raisi’s only rival from the reformist camp was the low-profile former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, 65, who had polled in the low single digits before the election.
Iran’s electorate, of now almost 60 million eligible voters, has delivered surprise results before, observers warn. If no clear winner emerges, a runoff will be held next Friday.
On election day, pictures of often flag-waving voters in the country of 83 million dominated state TV coverage, but away from the polling stations some voiced anger at what they saw as a stage-managed election.
“Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected,” scoffed Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie. “They organize the elections for the media.”
Enthusiasm has been dampened further by the economic malaise of spiralling inflation and job losses, and the pandemic that proved more deadly in Iran than anywhere else in the region, killing more than 80,000 people by the official count.
Among those who lined up to vote at schools, mosques and community centers, many said they supported Raisi, who has promised to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of flats for low-income families.
A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed the frontrunner for his anti-graft credentials and on hopes he would “move the country forward... and save the people from economic, cultural and social deprivation.”
Raisi has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.
To opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. The US government has sanctioned him over the purge, in which Raisi has denied playing a part.
Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major influence in fields from industrial policy to foreign affairs.
Rouhani, 72, leaves office in August after serving the maximum two consecutive four-year-terms allowed under the constitution.
His landmark achievement was the 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
But high hopes for greater prosperity were crushed in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and launched a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran.
While Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, Trump charged it is still planning to build the bomb and destabilising the Middle East through armed proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
As old and new US sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted. The economy nosedived and spiralling prices fueled repeated bouts of social unrest which were put down by security forces.
Iran’s ultraconservative camp — which deeply distrusts the United States, labelled the “Great Satan” or the “Global Arrogance” in the Islamic republic — attacked Rouhani over the failing deal.
Despite this, there is broad agreement among all the candidates including Raisi that Iran must seek an end to the US sanctions in ongoing talks in Vienna aiming to revive the nuclear accord

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Houthis besiege thousands of civilians in Marib’s Al-Abedia

Updated 11 sec ago

Houthis besiege thousands of civilians in Marib’s Al-Abedia

  • Local government officials told Arab News that the Houthis besieged Al-Abedia area, south of Marib province

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis have laid siege to thousands of civilians inside a government-controlled area in the central province of Marib.
Intensifying fighting for the energy-rich city of Marib has killed dozens of combatants during the past 24 hours.
Local government officials told Arab News on Monday that the Houthis besieged Al-Abedia area, south of Marib province, after their forces scored a string of territorial gains following a rapid assault on government troops, preventing people, including the sick, from leaving or entering the area.
“We have not been able to deliver humanitarian assistance to the 5,106 besieged families and children as the militias blocked roads and prevented them from even leaving for medical treatment,” Khaled Al-Shajani, the head of Marib’s office of the internationally recognized government’s Executive Unit for IDPs Camps, told Arab News by telephone.
He urged international organizations and powerful countries to pressure the Houthis to lift their siege and stop military operations to allow civilians to leave their homes.
The government official said that more than 1,043 families had also left homes in Hareb district, southeastern Marib, and sheltered in the city of Marib since earlier this month. This was adding more pressure to the large displacement camps in Marib that host more than 2 million people, he said.
Local military officials and media reports said on Monday that heavy fighting broke out between the Houthis and government troops in Al-Mashjah, Al-Kasarah, Hareb, Jabal Murad and Serwah as the Houthis escalated ground attacks and artillery fire on government troops defending the city of Marib.
Dozens of combatants, most of them Houthis, have been killed in the fighting or in airstrikes by Arab coalition warplanes.
“There are martyrs from the national army, but the Houthi deaths are much bigger,” a military official, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News, noting that hundreds of Houthis have been killed since the weekend.
Yemeni officials say that they cannot put a number on Houthi deaths as most of the rebels are killed by the coalition’s warplanes behind the frontline or even before taking part in the fighting. The latest round of fierce fighting in Marib began in February when the Houthis renewed a major military offensive to seize control of the government’s last bastion in the densely populated northern half of the country.
The local authority in the northern province of Hajjah said that the death toll from the Houthi missile strike on a flame-lighting ceremony in Medi town on Saturday had risen to 12 people, including three military and security officials. The Houthis fired a ballistic missile on Saturday night at a gathering of government officials and civilians marking the 59th anniversary of the Sept. 26 revolution.
Another ballistic missile hit the city of Marib, destroying the house of the governor of Marib, Sultan Al-Arada.
The increase in fighting in Marib comes as government-controlled areas continue to record a high number of coronavirus infections.
The Aden-based national coronavirus committee on Monday announced 54 new cases, nine deaths and 42 recoveries in government-controlled areas, bringing the total number of cases to 8,988, including 1,703 deaths and 5,570 recoveries.


At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’

Updated 27 September 2021

At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’

  • FM Faisal Mekdad pledges to continue to fight to rid country of ‘terrorists’
  • Denounces use of chemical weapons despite their use by Assad regime to quell revolution

NEW YORK: Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has accused the country’s adversaries of using the coronavirus disease pandemic as an opportunity to attack Syria, and issued a warning to the US, Turkey, and the Syrian Democratic Forces that the Assad regime will use “all possible means” to expel them from the country.

Speaking on Monday, the final day of the UN General Assembly, Mekdad said that “the world has experienced unprecedented circumstances, where hospitals reached full capacity, millions of lives were lost, economies contracted” as a result of COVID-19.

But, he continued, “some used the pandemic to settle political scores. Others selfishly ignored the needs of others, choosing to believe they are alone on this Earth.”

The minister, who assumed office less than a year ago, denounced countries who allegedly “took advantage of the pandemic to scale up their unilateral coercive economic measures against those countries and people who differ from them.”

The Syrian representative did not name any state explicitly, but the US has implemented a sanctions regime against Syria and its leadership due to crimes committed over the course of the country’s brutal civil war — including the repeated use of chemical weaponry and other human rights abuses.

Mekdad also pledged that the Assad regime would continue the country’s fight against “terrorists” in Syria, and said those that “continue to support and invest in terrorists will be doomed to fail.”

Throughout his speech, he railed against the US, Turkey, and Israel, taking the opportunity to denounce Israel’s occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights, which was recognized as Israeli territory by the administration of the former US president, Donald Trump, but is considered Syrian by the UN.

He also accused both Turkey and the US of looting Syrian resources and occupying territory within the country. 

“Just as we managed to wipe out terrorists from the majority of Syrian territories, we will work to end the occupation with the same resolve and determination, using all possible means under international law,” said Mekdad.

In a thinly veiled threat against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia convened by the US to fight Daesh, Mekdad said: “As for the few seeking secession in northeast Syria, we warn them against harboring such illusions. By pursuing such ends, they align themselves with those plotting against Syria’s unity — and they will be dealt with accordingly.”

Mekdad also used his speech to rally against the use of chemical weapons, calling them “reprehensible and completely unacceptable under any circumstances by anyone, anywhere at any time.”

He explained that, for this reason, Syria signed up to multilateral conventions against the use of the weapons, and “fulfilled its obligations in record time.”

In 2013, a chemical weapon attack in rebel-held Ghouta, Damascus, attributed to the Syrian government, killed hundreds of people, with some estimates putting the death toll at over 1,500. 

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also noted as recently as August this year that Syria still has not fulfilled all of its obligations under the chemical weapons treaties — including the requirement to declare what chemical weapons the regime still has stockpiled and where they are being held.

Syria has also ignored requests by the UN body to issue a visa for a team leader in its command post in the country, OPCW said, “which left the command post with only support staff from UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services) for the second time this year.”


Omani FM calls for more global attention on Yemen

Updated 27 September 2021

Omani FM calls for more global attention on Yemen

  • Al-Busaidi says that a cease-fire must be called on all sides to “fully resume” all humanitarian efforts “to provide for the needs of our brothers in Yemen
  • The foreign minister praised “the success of the reconciliation efforts led by the brotherly state of Kuwait”

LONDON: Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood Al-Busaidi has told the UN General Assembly that the sultanate is focussed on ending the war in Yemen in cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Al-Busaidi said that Oman is continuing “its tireless endeavors and working with the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UN, the US envoys for Yemen, and all the concerned Yemeni parties in order to end the war through a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire.”

The foreign minister added that a cease-fire must be called on all sides to “fully resume” all humanitarian efforts “to provide for the needs of our brothers in Yemen, in particular the areas of medicine, health care, food, fuel and housing.” 

Al-Busaidi said that Oman “joined our voice with everyone who believes in a comprehensive political settlement to the existing crisis in a way that restores stability and security while retaining the security of the countries of the region.”

He addressed regional security, referring to the AlUla summit last year, stressing that the sultanate “has welcomed and supported the positive developments that resulted from the AlUla summit that was held in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

The foreign minister praised “the success of the reconciliation efforts led by the brotherly state of Kuwait.”

Al-Busaidi continued on the theme of regional security by expressing Oman’s hope that “the Vienna talks on the Iranian nuclear program will lead to the desired consensus among all parties because we firmly believe that this will be in the interest of the region and the world.” 

Following his comments on Iran and its nuclear program, the foreign minister referred to the need to “ensure freedom of maritime navigation” to “enhance economic growth opportunities.”

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Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’

Updated 27 September 2021

Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’

  • Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi on Monday rejected the charge on Twitter

TEHRAN: Iran on Monday rejected a complaint by the UN nuclear watchdog that it was blocked from a nuclear site, arguing that the facility was exempt from a recent agreement.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Sunday it had been denied “indispensable” access to the TESA Karaj centrifuge component manufacturing workshop near Tehran contrary to a September 12 agreement with Iran.
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi on Monday rejected the charge on Twitter.
“During the discussions in Tehran and Vienna, Iran indicated that... equipment related to this Complex are not included for servicing,” he wrote, referring to IAEA work on its surveillance equipment.
Sunday’s IAEA statement “isn’t accurate and goes beyond the agreed terms,” he added.
This month’s agreement between the IAEA and Iran came days after the nuclear watchdog had decried a lack of cooperation from Tehran.
Agency inspectors had been allowed to service monitoring and surveillance equipment and to replace storage media at “all necessary locations” except the TESA Karaj workshop, the IAEA said on Sunday.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi in his latest report on Iran informed member states that the Islamic republic had granted all other access from September 20-22.
The IAEA’s latest report comes amid stalled negotiations to revive a 2015 landmark agreement scaling back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
That deal started to fall apart in 2018 when the US withdrew from it and reinstated sanctions. Iran in turn again started to ramp up its nuclear activities.
Talks began in April in Vienna between Tehran and the remaining five parties to the 2015 deal aimed at bringing Washington back into the agreement.
But that dialogue has been stalled since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi won Iran’s presidential election.
Iran’s foreign minister said Friday that talks would restart “very soon,” but the US has called for a clear timetable.


US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog

Updated 27 September 2021

US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog

  • Workshop at the TESA Karaj complex makes components for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium

VIENNA: Iran must stop denying the UN nuclear watchdog access to a workshop making centrifuge parts as agreed two weeks ago or face diplomatic retaliation at the agency’s Board of Governors within days, the United States said on Monday.
The workshop at the TESA Karaj complex makes components for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, and was hit by apparent sabotage in June in which one of four International Atomic Energy Agency cameras there was destroyed. Iran removed them and the destroyed camera’s footage is missing.
TESA Karaj was one of several sites to which Iran agreed to grant IAEA inspectors access to service IAEA monitoring equipment and replace memory cards just as they were due to fill up with data such as camera footage. The Sept. 12 accord helped avoid a diplomatic escalation between Iran and the West.
“We are deeply troubled by Iran’s refusal to provide the IAEA with the needed access to service its monitoring equipment, as was agreed in the September 12 Joint Statement between the IAEA and Iran,” a US statement to the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors on Monday said.
It was responding to an IAEA report to member states on Sunday that said Iran had granted access to sites as agreed on Sept. 12 but not to the workshop, where IAEA inspectors were denied access on Sunday. They had planned to check if the workshop was ready to operate and re-install cameras if it was.
Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said overnight on Twitter that before the deal with the IAEA, Iran indicated that monitoring equipment at Karaj was “not included for servicing” because of ongoing investigations and Sunday’s report “goes beyond the agreed terms of the JS (Joint Statement).”
The European Union told the IAEA board that Iran’s failure to grant the IAEA access to the workshop was “a worrying development, contrary to the Joint Statement reached on 12 September 2021.”
A resolution criticizing Iran at the Board of Governors could kill hopes of resuming indirect talks between Iran and the United States to bring both sides back into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Iran usually bristles at such resolutions and its news hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi has said Iran is prepared to return to the negotiating table but not under Western “pressure.” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Friday Iran would return to the talks “very soon.”
“We call on Iran to provide the IAEA with needed access without further delay,” the US statement said. “If Iran fails to do so, we will be closely consulting with other board members in the coming days on an appropriate response.”
The European Union also called on Iran to grant access “without any further delay.”