Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy

Iranian women in Tehran wave their country’s flags during an election campaign rally ahead of the March 1 elections for parliament and Assembly of Experts. (AP)
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Updated 28 February 2024
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Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy

  • Parliament vote could see a low turnout ­— a constant feature of past elections

DUBAI: Iran is holding parliamentary elections this Friday, yet the real question may not be who gets elected but how many people actually turn out to vote.

Widespread discontent over the cratering economy, years of mass protests rocking the country, and tensions with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program and Iran’s support for Russia in its war on Ukraine have many people quietly saying they won’t vote in this election.

Officials have urged people to cast ballots but tellingly, no information has been released this year from the state-owned polling center ISPA about expected turnout — a constant feature of past elections. Of 21 Iranians interviewed recently by The Associated Press, only five said they would vote. Thirteen said they won’t and three said they were undecided.

“If I protest about some shortcoming, many police and security agents will try to stop me,” said Amin, a 21-year-old university student who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals. “But if I die from hunger on the corner of one of the main streets, they will show no reaction.”

Over 15,000 candidates are vying for a seat in the 290-member parliament, formally known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Terms run for four years and five seats are reserved for Iran’s religious minorities.

Under the law, the parliament has oversight over the executive branch, votes on treaties and handles other issues. In practice, absolute power in Iran rests with its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Hard-liners have controlled the parliament for the past two decades — with chants of “Death to America” often heard from the floor.

Under parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guard general who supported a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999, the legislature pushed forward a bill in 2020 that greatly curtailed Tehran’s cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

That followed then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 — an act that sparked years of tensions in the Middle East and saw Iran enrich enough uranium at record-breaking purity to have enough fuel for “several” nuclear weapons if it chose.

More recently, the parliament has focused on issues surrounding Iran’s mandatory headscarf, or hijab, for women after the 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody, which sparked nationwide protests. The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed over 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.

Calls for an election boycott have spread in recent weeks, including from imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, a women’s right activist, who called them a “sham.”

“The Islamic Republic, with its ruthless and brutal suppression, the killing of young people on the streets, the executions and the imprisonment and torture of men and women, deserves national sanctions and global disgrace,” Mohammadi said in a statement.

The boycott calls have put the government under renewed pressure — since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s theocracy has based its legitimacy in part on turnout in elections.

On Wednesday, Khamenei himself urged people to vote, describing it as a national duty. “There is no reasoning behind not voting,” he said. “It does not solve any problem of the country.”

He also said “those who express a lack of interest in the election and encourage others not to participate should think some more.”

“If the election is weak, all face harm,” he added.

Though ISPA, the polling agency, conducted election surveys in October, its results have not been made public. Figures from politicians and other media outlets suggest a turnout of around 30 percent.

In the 2021 presidential election that brought hardliner Ebrahim Raisi to power, the turnout was 49 percent — the lowest on record for a presidential vote. Millions of ballots were declared void, likely from those who felt obligated to vote but did not want to cast a ballot.

The 2019 parliament race saw a 42 percent turnout.

Separately, Iranians will also vote on Friday for members of the country’s 88-seat Assembly of Experts, an eight-year term on a panel that will appoint the country’s next supreme leader after Khamenei, 84.

Barred from that race is former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate under whose term Iran struck the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Some said Iran’s economic woes were the reason they are staying away from the polls. Inflation is reportedly at around 50 percent, with unemployment around 20 percent for young Iranians.

“I will not vote,” said Hashem Amani, a 55-year-old fruit merchant in southern Tehran. “In 2021, I voted for Raisi to become president in hope that similar people in the government can work together and make a better life for me. What I got in return was rocketing prices for everything.”


Israeli PM Netanyahu says he will fight any sanctions on army battalions

Updated 2 min 43 sec ago
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Israeli PM Netanyahu says he will fight any sanctions on army battalions

  • On Saturday, Axios news site reported that Washington was planning to impose sanctions on Israel’s Netzah Yehuda battalion
  • “If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) — I will fight it with all my strength,” Netanyahu said

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would fight against sanctions being imposed on any Israeli military units after media reported that Washington was planning such a step against a battalion for alleged rights violations.
On Saturday, Axios news site reported that Washington was planning to impose sanctions on Israel’s Netzah Yehuda battalion that has operated in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli military said it was not aware of any measures being taken.
“If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) — I will fight it with all my strength,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
The Israeli military said that Netzah Yehuda battalion is an active combat unit that operates according to the principles of international law.
“Following publications about sanctions against the battalion, the IDF is not aware of the issue. If a decision is made on the matter it will be reviewed. The IDF works and will continue to work to investigate any unusual event in a practical manner and according to law,” the military said.


Iran’s Khamenei praises ‘success’ of military after Israel attack

Updated 21 April 2024
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Iran’s Khamenei praises ‘success’ of military after Israel attack

  • Supreme leader: ‘The armed forces showed a good image of their abilities and power and an admirable image of the Iranian nation’

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the country’s armed forces for their “success” in his first public comments since Tehran launched an unprecedented direct attack on Israel last week.
In a meeting with Iranian military commanders on Sunday, Khamenei praised the armed forces for their “success in recent events,” a week after the country’s first-ever direct attack on Israel from its own territory.
“The armed forces showed a good image of their abilities and power and an admirable image of the Iranian nation,” Khamenei said. “They also proved the emergence of the power of the Iranian nation’s determination at the international level.”
The remarks from Iran’s supreme leader are the first since Iran attacked Israel and since a reported Israeli attack on a military air base in central Isfahan province on Friday.
“The armed forces’ recent achievements have created a sense of splendour and magnificence about Islamic Iran in the eyes of the world,” Khamenei said in quotes posted on his official X account.
The Friday strike, which Khamenei did not mention, was a presumed response to Iran’s unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel which was itself a retaliation for an airstrike on the Iranian consular building in Damascus.
That attack, widely blamed on Israel, levelled the consular annex of the Iranian embassy and killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, including two generals.
Israel said it intercepted 99 percent of the more than 300 drones and missiles fired at it, with the aid of the United States and other allies and that those which got through caused only minor damage.
Addressing his country’s attack on Israel, Khamenei said “the issue of the number of missiles fired or the missiles that hit the target” was “secondary.”
“The main issue is the emergence of the willpower of the Iranian nation and the armed forces in the international arena,” he said, according to his official website.
Iran and Israel appeared to have stepped back from the brink of a broader conflict following Friday’s attack, which Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian appeared to downplay to US media on Saturday.
Speaking to NBC News, he dismissed it as “no attack” and said the weapons used were “at the level of toys,” adding that if there was “no new adventure” by Israel then Iran “will have no response.”
The comments helped to dampen fears of an all-out war between the arch-foes which could spread into a wider regional conflict.


Hamas says US military aid to Israel ‘green light’ for Gaza ‘aggression’

Updated 21 April 2024
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Hamas says US military aid to Israel ‘green light’ for Gaza ‘aggression’

  • Condemns US House of Representatives’ approval of billions of dollars in new military aid to Israel

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Palestinian militant group Hamas on Sunday condemned the US House of Representatives’ approval of billions of dollars in new military aid to Israel, much of which is to strengthen Israeli air defenses.

“This support, which violates international law, is a license and a green light for the Zionist extremist government (Israel) to continue the brutal aggression against our people,” Hamas said in a statement.

“We consider this step a confirmation of the official American complicity and partnership in the war of extermination waged by the fascist occupation army against our Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.”

On Saturday, the US House of Representatives approved $13 billion in military assistance to America’s historic ally Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Washington is already Israel’s largest military supplier.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the “much appreciated aid bill” showed strong support for Israel and “defends Western civilization.”

The US bill said that more than $9 billion will also be earmarked to address “the dire need for humanitarian assistance for Gaza as well as other vulnerable populations around the world.”


Iran president to visit Pakistan, boost ties: Islamabad

Updated 21 April 2024
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Iran president to visit Pakistan, boost ties: Islamabad

  • Ebrahim Raisi will be accompanied by ‘a high-level delegation comprising the foreign minister... as well as a large business delegation’

ISLAMABAD: Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi will travel to Islamabad on Monday to meet his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said, as the two countries seek to mend ties following deadly cross-border attacks this year.
Raisi will be accompanied by “a high-level delegation comprising the foreign minister... as well as a large business delegation,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
The tit-for-tat missile strikes in January in the porous border region of Balochistan — split between the two nations — stoked regional tensions already inflamed by the Israel-Hamas war.
Tehran carried out the strikes against an anti-Iran group in Pakistan the same week it targeted Iraq and Syria.
Pakistan responded with a raid on “militant targets” in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province, one of the few mainly Sunni Muslim regions in Shiite-dominated Iran.
Both countries have in the past accused each other of sheltering militants.
A visit to Islamabad by Tehran’s foreign minister led to the two sides pledging to improve dialogue and install liaison officers in both countries.
Sistan-Balochistan province has for years faced unrest involving cross-border drug-smuggling gangs and rebels from the Baloch ethnic minority, and Muslim extremists.
Raisi will also visit Lahore and Karachi to meet provincial leaders, according to the statement.
The countries will further strengthen ties and enhance cooperation in “trade, connectivity, energy, agriculture, and people-to-people contacts,” it added.
Pakistan is counting on a joint gas project with Iran to solve a long-running power crisis that has sapped its economic growth.
A $7.5-billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline intended to feed Pakistani power plants was inaugurated with great fanfare in March 2013.
But the project immediately stagnated following international sanctions on Iran.
Tehran has built its own section of the 1,800-kilometer (1,100-mile) pipeline, which should eventually link its South Pars gas fields to the Pakistani city of Nawabshah, near Karachi.
In February, Pakistan’s outgoing caretaker government approved the construction of an 80-kilometer section of the pipeline, primarily to avoid the payment of billions of dollars in penalties to Iran due to years of delays.
Washington has warned that Pakistan could face US sanctions, saying it does not support the pipeline going forward.


Emir of Qatar begins Asia tour with state visit to Philippines

Updated 21 April 2024
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Emir of Qatar begins Asia tour with state visit to Philippines

  • During his tour the emir will speak with the countries’ leaders and senior officials

DUBAI: The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad began his state visit to Manila, the Philippine capital, on Sunday as part of his Asia tour, reported the Qatar News Agency.

Sheikh Tamim received a welcome at Maharlika Presidential Airport from a delegation including Rafael Perpetuo Lotilla, minister of energy; Ahmed bin Saad Al-Humaidi, ambassador of Qatar to the Philippines; and Lilibeth Velasco Puno, ambassador of the Philippines to Qatar, along with several senior officials from the Philippine government and members of the Qatari embassy.

Accompanied by an official delegation, Sheikh Tamim’s itinerary includes visits to Bangladesh and Nepal following his time in the Philippines.

During his tour, the emir will speak with the countries’ leaders and senior officials, focusing on ways to enhance cooperation and discussing issues of common interest.

Additionally, agreements and memoranda of understanding are expected to be signed across various fields.