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9420Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Kuwait, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Yemen, Iran

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  • Zafar Khan
    Oct 6, 2012
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      KUWAIT

      Kuwaitis rally for democratic reforms
      Thousands of protesters gathered outside the parliament demanding the election of a PM from outside the ruling family.
      Last Modified: 11 Sep 2012 03:07

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/09/20129111174999675.html

      More than 3,000 Kuwaitis have protested in front of the parliament demanding the election of a prime minister from outside the ruling al-Sabah family.

      Monday's protest was also against a government move to amend the electoral law and was attended by 21 lawmakers from the opposition-majority parliament which was elected in February before being dissolved months later after the constitutional court declared the polls illegal and reinstated the previous pro-government parliament.

      "We have decided as people that (Prime Minister) Jaber al-Mubarak will be the last prime minister... from the al-Sabah" family, prominent Islamist MP Walid al-Tabtabaie told the rally.

      The al-Sabah family can "be the emirs but the ministers will be from among us," he said at the so-called "Determination Square" located opposite the parliament.

      "Our problem is with the members of the family who must be kept away from ministerial positions. There must be a law that organises the work of the ruling family," said former MP Khaled Shakheer.

      "I will come every evening to the Determination Square with the people until our demands are met," he told the demonstrators.

      The protest was called for by Nahj an umbrella group of Islamist and independent opposition and youth activists who have called for activating the constitutional monarchy concept in Kuwait.

      An AFP news agency correspondent reported tight security measures in the square and the areas surrounding it.

      Continuing protests

      Hundreds of opposition activists insisted on remaining in the square even after the demonstration was over despite a ban by the interior ministry on any sit-ins.

      They said that they will continue their protests until the constitutional court announces its final decision on amending the electoral law later this month.

      Earlier this month the government decided to refer the electoral law, amended in its current form in 2006, to the constitutional court over suspicion that it contradicts the constitution.

      The move will effectively put on hold dissolving the pro-government parliament, reinstated in a court ruling on June 20 after it was dismissed in December, and holding fresh general election.

      A similar rally took place last week against the move, described by the opposition as a coup against the constitutional system.

      Kuwait was the first Arab state in the Gulf to introduce democracy 50 years ago but the constitution leaves massive powers in the hands of the ruler and the government is dominated by the al-Sabah dynasty that has ruled the country for over 250 years without any challenge.

      Since 2006, the government resigned nine times and parliament was dissolved on five occasions.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      LIBYA

      Bodies of six militiamen found in Benghazi after attacks on bases
      Militiamen found apparently executed the day after protesters stormed jihadists' bases in Libyan city of Benghazi
      Chris Stephen in Benghazi
      The Observer, Saturday 22 September 2012 19.06 BST

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/22/bodies-six-militiamen-found-benghazi

      The Libyan city of Benghazi was tense after the bodies of six militiamen apparently executed after the storming of a base on the southern outskirts were discovered in a field.

      The bodies were found the day after crowds marched on three militia bases, including that of Ansar al-Sharia, blamed by many in the city for the murder of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, earlier this month. Funerals were held for nine protesters killed when crowds tried to force their way into the Rafallah al-Sahati militia base early on Saturday morning.

      The militia was the only one of three to fire back when demonstrators swarmed over their bases, following a rally on Friday in which 30,000 people vowed to retake the streets of the city.

      The interior minister, Fawzi Abdul Al, who was criticised for his failure to launch a full investigation of the murder of Stevens and three fellow diplomats, criticised the action of the crowds, saying the militias should have been given more time to incorporate into the official security forces.

      The mood in Benghazi is one of both triumph and sorrow at the toll of dead and wounded. Mohammed El Kish, whose cousin was killed by a stray bullet more than a mile from the clashes, said: "He was not even involved in the actions, it is terrible."

      City hospitals were braced for more violence after the Rafallah al-Sahati militia reoccupied its looted base. Several hundred unarmed people gathered outside. "This is not good, they should not be here. When the funerals have finished there will be trouble," said Ashraf Saleh.

      Police remained in control of the Ansar al-Sharia compound, which is now a looted ruin. A spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia, whose units have dispersed outside the city, insisted they had withdrawn rather than confront protesters "for reasons of security".

      The chaos at the heart of Libya's government remains, with some angry that Rafallah was attacked after it had formally been incorporated into the Libyan army. Such designations are lost on many ordinary Libyans, who say many militias from last year's revolution have simply cut deals with ministries, enabling them to form what are in essence private armies.

      Washington is likely to draw quiet comfort from the sight of ordinary Libyan civilians confronting jihadists, after a week in which embassies across the Muslim world were firebombed and protests claimed 15 lives in Pakistan. US diplomats in Libya had been at pains not to inflame public opinion, with no criticism of the failure of the Libyan police to launch a full investigation into the killing of Stevens.

      Nearly two weeks after his death, an FBI team sent to Tripoli has yet to be given permission to travel to Benghazi. The city's chief prosecutor Saleh Adem Mohammed refused to discuss the case, nor confirm reports of four men arrested on suspicion of the killing. "We are not responsible for what the politicians say."

      Rumours are sweeping Benghazi that one of the two US compounds in the city that came under attack housed a small "black ops" unit that had moved to Libya after the rocket attack on the British ambassador in the city in June. The US has yet to explain why some 30 diplomats needed to be evacuated from a consulate that might be expected to have less than half that staff.

      But as more eyewitness evidence accumulates, it is clear that the attack on the consulate was unprovoked, and that statements from Washington that it grew out of an anti-American protest appear to be false.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Libyan Islamist militia swept out of Benghazi bases
      PETER GRAFF , SULEIMAN AL-KHALIDI SATURDAY 22 SEPTEMBER 2012

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/libyan-islamist-militia-swept-out-of-benghazi-bases-8165538.html
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      Libyan parliamentary speaker hints at military strike after consulate attack
      Magariaf confirms US officials intercepted communications that linked al-Qaida in Maghreb to Islamist brigade Ansar al-Sharia
      Chris Stephen in Benghazi
      The Guardian, Sunday 16 September 2012 15.22 BST

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/16/libyan-president-magariaf-military-action
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      American killed as US consulates stormed over 'Mohamed film'
      MAGGIE MICHAEL , SARAH EL DEEB CAIRO WEDNESDAY 12 SEPTEMBER 2012

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/american-killed-as-us-consulates-stormed-over-mohamed-film-8126288.html
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      US envoy dies in Benghazi consulate attack
      Ambassador and three staff killed during attack in eastern Libya city over film deemed insulting by Muslims.
      Last Modified: 12 Sep 2012 18:20

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/09/20129112108737726.html
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      EGYPT

      In pictures: Cairo's rich-poor standoff
      Shimmering posh complex towering over Ramlet Boulaq slum showcases the class divide in Egyptian capital.
      Mosa'ab Elshamy Last Modified: 25 Sep 2012 12:41

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2012/09/2012924143455660450.html

      Along central Cairo's corniche, the twin towers of the shimmering Nile City complex - containing malls, movie theatres and hotels - screen the ugly truth behind them.

      Stuck in ramshackle hovels in the towers' shadows, the residents of the Ramlet Boulaq slum struggle to keep their land and have their voices heard.

      The juxtaposition says much about Egypt's biggest modern-day problem: the stark divide between the rich and poor, exacerbated by a housing crisis and rampant privatisation of land.

      Ramlet Boulaq was born when migrants relocated from southern Egypt in the early years of the 20th century to work in Cairo's factories. Generations were buried and new ones born on the land, but the ambitions of big business to turn the area into a luxurious Nile-front complex now threatens Ramlet Boulaq.

      During the early days of the revolution that toppled long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak last year, the men of Ramlet Boulaq protected the towers as looters tried to break in when police abandoned the streets.

      The co-operation briefly alleviated tensions between locals and the billionaire property developer, who rewarded them for securing the towers. He offered them monthly pay in return for looking after Nile City, a joint venture with a rich Saudi Arabian family.

      But trouble came in July, when clashes broke out after the towers' management reportedly refused to provide residents with water hoses to put out a fire that left a five-year-old child dead.

      Then, in early August, guards killed a man following a scuffle after he went looking for his payment. Clashes erupted, and residents attempted to set the towers' parking lot on fire. They burned cars and motor bikes and tried to break into the building.

      The violence was a reminder of the simmering hostility between the two sides, clubbed together in the same area but with little in common. While opulance is the towers' signature, Ramlet Boulaq is without sewage, electricity or running water.

      Now, with land sharks eyeing the remaining property around Nile City, the slum is struggling to stay in place..

      A few residents have already moved out after accepting payments of $500 to $1000 per square metre for land many say costs 10 times more. But a majority of Ramlet Boulaq's residents are standing firm, at least for now, in the squalor and under the shadows of their rich neighbours.
      [SLIDESHOW]
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      Salafist media's growing influence in Egypt
      Conservative Islamic channels appear to be enjoying popularity after the posting of an anti-Islam video.
      Last Modified: 19 Sep 2012 03:01

      http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2012/09/2012918212550140834.html

      [VIDEO]
      here have been demonstrations across the Muslim world against an anti-Islam video made in the US.

      The protests started in Cairo, after al-Nas, a local Salafist TV station, replayed a clip of the film.

      Al Jazeera's Barnaby Phillips has been to the TV station and reports on how it and other conservative Islamic channels appear to be enjoying growing influence.
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      Embassies under attack over anti-Islam video
      Violent protests in Tunisia, Yemen, Sudan and elsewhere as crowds target US, UK and German embassies.
      Last Modified: 15 Sep 2012 04:00

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/09/201291482159758224.html
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      Angry protests spread over anti-Islam video
      Demonstrations over movie trailer made in US and deemed insulting to Islam spread across Middle East and North Africa.
      Last Modified: 14 Sep 2012 11:52

      http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2012/09/20129130543708779.html
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      LEBANON

      Lebanon Christians feel under siege; find hope in pope
      ri Sep 14, 2012 3:32pm IST
      * 500 years on pope gives special place to Lebanon's Christians
      * Christians fear Islamist rise in Arab Spring
      * Without its Christians, Lebanon will lose unique identity
      * Mix of Islamist threat, economic pressures could drive more out
      By Samia Nakhoul

      http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/09/14/pope-lebanon-christians-idINL5E8KDGB620120914

      BEIRUT, Sept 14 (Reuters) - In 1510, Pope Leo X thanked Divine Providence for having preserved the Maronite Christians through the hardest of times, "planted among infidels, schismatics and heretics as in a field of error".

      He described them as a "rose among thorns, an impregnable rock in the sea, unshaken by the waves and fury of the thundering tempest".

      Today, more than five centuries later, Pope Benedict will reassert this message of survival in a hostile environment in a three-day visit to Lebanon.

      His visit comes at a time when Christians in the region feel their existence threatened by the rise of political Islam. It also coincides with violent protests in Libya and Egypt against film, made in the United States, that is insulting to Islam.

      In this small country where, uniquely in the Arab world, Christians have held the political reins since independence in 1943, the Christian communities feel menaced.

      Across the Arab world, Christians feel like a species facing extinction, threatened by Islamist fanatics, driven by a lack of opportunity at home to seek better lives abroad, and now fearful of the post-revolution order which in some countries has brought Islamists to power.

      Christians now make up about 5 percent of the Middle Eastern population, down from 20 percent a century ago. If current pressures and their low birth rates continue, some estimates say their 12 million total could be halved by 2020.

      FEELING OUT OF PLACE

      While some Christians in Lebanon felt exhilarated by the uprisings that swept the Middle East over the past two years, ending decades of dictatorships, they look with foreboding at Islamist movements, based on hardline ideology and with little tolerance towards minorities. The Islamists have been the only forces organised enough to fill the power vacuum.

      "We are in a new critical situation," said Monsignor Paul Matar, Archbishop of Beirut for the Maronites. "The Christians of course are alarmed. They ask will the Arab world regress?"

      "The Islamists should know, that even if they have gained power, that there are others who exist in this region and that they are equal citizens."

      For many Christians the rise of political Islam is changing the nature of the uprisings that toppled four autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya and has placed one under siege in Syria. They had hoped for a broad movement that would lead these countries to democracy but got instead Islamists, who they believe will eventually impose stricter social codes.

      For many Christians, memories of Iraq are fresh. The sectarian killings that followed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the mass exodus of Iraqi Christians, created a trauma.

      Of all the revolutions that have dismantled the old order, none terrifies leaders of the religious minorities in the Middle East more than Syria's, the bloodiest chapter in the Arab upheaval.

      Their fear is that the ousting of one minority - the Alawites through whom the Assad family has ruled Syria for four decades - will uncage sectarian forces that threaten minorities.

      Many close observers of Syria do see the possibility of the Iraqi scenario being repeated.

      Were that to happen, they see a strong likelihood that the Christians of Syria, caught in the cross-fire of the power struggle between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims, would feel compelled to leave.

      SIDING WITH DICTATORS?

      What leaves the Christians of Syria particularly exposed is the position of most of their top clerical leadership, which chose to ally itself with the Assad dynasty.

      The crisis in Syria has also polarised Christians in neighbouring Lebanon, long dominated by Damascus. Some Christians are excited about the prospects of toppling Assad but others are haunted by what may come after his demise.

      In Lebanon itself, Beshara Rai, the Maronite Patriarch, in a statement ahead of the Pope's visit appeared to be warning Christians of the consequences of actions that open the way to Islamist forces. "We need to be aware of what is going on and read events carefully so that we do not become tools to achieve foreign schemes", the Patriarch said.

      Rai, who in an interview with Reuters this year described Assad's Syria as "the closest thing to democracy in the Arab world", drew attention to plots being hatched across the region.

      Ignatius Hazim, Patriarch of Antioch and the Greek Orthodox Christians in Syria, praised Assad for "reforms undertaken". While he and his clerical peers may be accurately conveying the unease among Arab Christians about the future, they are also placing their congregations in the camp of the dictatorship.

      Leading intellectuals from the region fear the consequences.

      The regional struggle within Islam between the region's Sunnis and Shi'ites - exacerbated after the invasion of Iraq replaced the Sunni rule of Saddam Hussein with majority Shi'ites - terrifies not just the Christians but other minorities such as the Alawites, Druze, or ethnically distinct Kurds.

      DIVIDED COMMUNITY

      The Maronites survived 15 centuries of largely Islamic rule thanks to a mixture of obstinacy, ferocity and Western patronage. When France created greater Lebanon in 1920 after the collapse of the Ottoman empire, it awarded them the leading role in the state.

      Ruling Lebanon through the Maronite sect, the Christians not only fought their Muslim rivals but each other during the 1975-90 civil war. They emerged defeated and divided between factions now allied with the Shi'ites, led by Hezbollah, and remnants from the Phalange Party in league with the Sunnis.

      The 1989 Taif peace pact which ended the war stripped them of their monopoly by dividing power equally between Christians and Muslims, while war and emigration have reduced their numbers to about one-third of the four million population.

      The pressure to emigrate is intense, and better education and Western contacts enables it.

      "We are in a delicate time. We should be patient because we were here long before Islam," said Archbishop Matar. "We won't leave. We can have a role in stabilising the Middle East."

      Many Arab Muslims, who see Christians offering a culturally enriching window on the world, are also committed to this view.

      "The justification of Lebanon's existence is that it has Christians and Muslims and various other sects. If these sects don't exist, of course, the foundation of the country will cease to exist," argues Amin Maalouf, the prize-winning Lebanese-born French novelist and essayist.

      "Throughout history when a country expels its minorities it creates a disaster for itself," Maalouf said. "Each time the minorities leave a country, even if their number is very small, the country gets impoverished. The minorities in any country in the world are an important yeast".

      "LEBANON'S SOUL"

      "To put myself in the shoes of Arab Christians all I can say is I watch their predicament with horror," says Tarif Khalidi, a scholar of Islam and author of "The Muslim Jesus".

      The Christians, Khalidi argues, "in many ways, were the agents of Westernisation and the contacts between the (west) and Muslims in the awakening in the 19th century. It was a classic instance of Muslim-Christian renaissance. This symbiosis, if it is in any sense endangered, will be catastrophic," extinguishing a vibrant history of tolerant coexistence.

      "Had there been a Nobel peace prize for the middle ages it would be given to Arabic civilisation. I cannot see a more impressive record of inter-sectarian coexistence and pluralism."

      Excitement and pride over the Pope's visit have replaced fear and anxiety among Christians at least for now.

      Churches across Lebanon will toll their bells on his arrival. White and yellow candles will be lit at night on every Christian balcony.

      His pictures are hanging on churches and street lights. Churches across the country will bus their own adherents to attend the open-air mass on Sunday in the seafront of Beirut, rebuilt from the ashes of the civil war.

      "Lebanon is more than a country, it is a message to the East and to the West," reads a banner with a picture of Benedict.

      Many Lebanese Christians believe Pope Benedict is coming with a strong message for them not to abandon their land.

      Attending mass at the Saint Elias church, Ruba Tawk, 39, said: "The pope's visit will shine the light on Lebanese Christian identity and its survival at a time when they are facing a grave danger from Islamists pressuring them to leave".

      Like many Christians and even some Muslims she summed up the value of being a Christian in a sea of Islam.

      "Lebanon without its Christians will be a country without a soul. The Christians gave Lebanon its identity, its spirit of freedom and coexistence. Without its Christians Lebanon will no longer be Lebanon, it will be like any other Muslim country."
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      TUNISIA

      Tunisia rape victim accused of 'indecency'
      Civil society groups express outrage after woman was accused of "immoral behaviour" by policemen jailed for raping her.
      Yasmine Ryan Last Modified: 27 Sep 2012 10:58

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/09/201292745427434390.html

      Tunisian civil society is rallying in support of a young woman who was raped by police officers in what they say is part of a broader assault on women's rights by religious conservatives.

      There is widespread outrage after 27-year-old victim was summoned by the investigating judge on Wednesday to face chargers of "indecency" from the two men accused of raping her, in what many argue is an attempt by the authorities to intimidate her.

      Leading human rights, feminist groups and other prominent members of civil society have formed a committee evening to co-ordinate a campaign in support of the woman, including the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women and the Tunisian League of Human Rights.

      Faïza Skandrani, the head of the Equality and Parity organisation, told Al Jazeera that the case was an important one for two reasons: it marked the first time a woman allegedly raped by the police had taken the case to court, and it was the first time the authorities were trying to publicly shame a woman into dropping such charges.

      "The investigating judge is turning her from the victim to the accused, to help the police officers get away with it," she said. "I've heard about similar cases in Pakistan, but this is a first in Tunisia. Next they will be charging her with prostitution."

      Widespread outrage

      Activists are planning a protest outside the courthouse in Tunis on Tuesday, when the police are due to appear on rape charges.

      A Facebook page supporting the protest called on Tunisian couple to bring signs saying "We love each other: Rape us!" More than 1,200 people had confirmed that they would be attending at the time of writing.

      There are also calls for a nationwide "Women's strike" in the public sector on Tuesday.

      Many Tunisians expressed their solidarity with the woman online, writing "Rape her then judge her" on the ministry’s Facebook page. The messages had been deleted at the time of writing.

      The outrage is not only directed at the ruling coalition. The interior ministry is seen by many Tunisians as a relic of Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali's oppressive rule and many bureaucrats from the old regime have managed to hold on to influential posts.

      Since Ben Ali's ouster in January 2011, there has been little progress made in reforming the security forces, or to investigate many allegations of torture, rape and other human rights abuses.

      There have been many reports of police bullying ordinary citizens, including reports of them accusing women of prostitution in an attempt to solicite money.

      Khaled Tarrouche, a spokesperson for the interior ministry, told the AFP news agency that the ministry "had nothing to do with" the proceedings against the young woman, emphasising that the decision to summon her was taken by the magistrate.

      "In this case, we acted as was required of us. What had to be done was done, and the three police agents were arrested straight away," he said, insisting that cases of police assaulting women were "isolated".

      "We shouldn't read into this anything organised, or generalised," he added.

      "The police are also citizens first and foremost, and when they commit crimes, the law is applied unequivocally."

      Cultural war

      Activists see the case as an important one because of the symbolism in the wider cultural battles between those who want Tunisia to maintain its position as one of the most progressive countries in the Arab world, and religious conservatives.

      "This is a drop in the ocean of the problems we've been fighting," Skandrani said. "Each time we close one door, they open another."

      "The revolution was about freedom and democracy, not about undermining women's rights," she said. "They want to build a society where women can be used and treated like objects and where the man is always right."

      The controversy over the rape case comes as supporters of women’s rights reportedly had a significant victory on another front.

      There were protests in August after news emerged that Tunisia's new constitution, currently being drafted by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), would replace the term “equality” between men and women with "complementary".

      The vague wording would, activists feared, pave the way for the erosion of the progressive legal rights Tunisian women have enjoyed since 1956.

      Pressure from civil society finally forced the NCA to back down on Monday, according to media reports.

      "Decision makers restricted complementarity to the articles pertaining to the family, but when it comes to the Article 28, we replaced the word 'complementarity' with 'gender equality'," Hassna Marsit, a NCA member from the leftwing Congress for the Republic party, was quoted as saying by the independent website Tunisia Live.

      'Last straw'

      The young woman and her fiancé had been "apprehended" by police on September 3 in Ain Zaghouan, suburb of Tunis.

      In an interview with the French news organisation France 24 published on Thursday, her fiance said the couple was arrested in their car.

      They demanded money from him, handcuffed him, and took his partner in the back of their car where they raped her, he said.

      Karima Souid, an MP who belongs to Ettakatol, a centre-left group that partners the Islamist party, Ennahdha, in Tunisia's ruling coalition, denounced her party's support for the government in protest at the proceedings against the rape victim.

      "I completely dissociate myself from this government. The rape case and the summoning of the victim this morning is the last straw," she wrote on Facebook.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      YEMEN

      Nearly half of Yemenis going hungry: WFP
      SANAA: ARAB NEWS
      Monday 1 October 2012
      Last Update 1 October 2012 12:57 am

      http://www.arabnews.com/nearly-half-yemenis-going-hungry-wfp

      Nearly half of Yemenis go to bed hungry every night as political instability compounds a global food and fuel price surge, giving the country the world’s third-highest rate of child malnutrition, the World Food Program said yesterday.
      Forced to import most of its food needs because of a paucity of arable land, Yemen has also suffered from a rise in global food and fuel prices, WFP spokesman Barry Came told Reuters.
      “Five million people, or 22 percent of the population, can’t feed themselves or buy enough to feed themselves ... These are mostly landless laborers, so they don’t grow their own food, and with high food prices they can’t buy it either,” said Came.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      IRAN

      Iran currency crisis sparks Tehran street clashes
      Police use teargas and batons on demonstrators and Tehran bazaar closes as value of rial plunges
      Saeed Kamali Dehghan
      The Guardian, Thursday 4 October 2012

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/03/iran-currency-crisis-tehran-clashes

      Hundreds of demonstrators in the Iranian capital clashed with riot police on Wednesday, during protests against the crisis over the country's currency. Police used batons and teargas to try to disperse the crowds.

      The day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appealed to the market to restore calm, the Grand Bazaar – the heartbeat of Tehran's economy – went on strike, with various businesses shutting down and owners gathering in scattered groups chanting anti-government slogans in reaction to the plummeting value of the rial, which has hit an all-time low this week.

      "Mahmoud [Ahmadinejad] the traitor … leave politics," shouted some protesters, according to witnesses who spoke to the Guardian. Other slogans were "Leave Syria alone, instead think of us," said opposition website Kaleme.com.

      Iran's alleged financial and military support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad appears to have infuriated protesters in the wake of the country's worst financial crisis since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

      Angry protesters and foreign exchange dealers were demonstrating near the bazaar in the south of the capital, where many exchange bureaux are located.

      "The Bazaaris shouted 'Allahu Akbar' [God is great] as they closed down their shops in the morning," said a witness. "It's impossible to do business in the current situation." Amateur videos posted on YouTube which appeared to have been taken from Wednesday's protests, showed demonstrators encouraging Bazaaris to close down shops in solidarity. Security forces were soon sent to quell the protests.

      "They used teargas to disperse demonstrators in Ferdowsi Street and also blocked the streets close to the protests in order to prevent people joining them," said another witness, who asked to remain anonymous. "Some shop windows in that area have been smashed and dustbins set on fire." A number of demonstrators had been arrested, according to Kaleme.

      A bazaar official, Ahmad Karimi Esfahani, denied that the "turbulences" were linked to the business owners, claiming said shops were closed for security reasons and not as part of a strike. "The bazaar will open tomorrow as normal," he told the semi-official Ilna news agency. A conservative website, Baztab, described the clashes as "suspicious", denying Bazaaris were involved.

      The devaluation of the rial and soaring prices of staple goods are the latest signs that western sanctions – targeting the regime's nuclear programme – and government mismanagement are compounding the country's economic woes.

      On Wednesday, many foreign exchange dealers and bureaux across the country refused to trade dollars and some currency-monitoring websites refused to announce exchange rates.

      Some Iranians expressed anger on social networking websites over the national TV blackout of the protests, saying it discussed the European financial crisis with little if any coverage of Tehran's unrest. The authorities were also reported to have jammed signals of the BBC's Persian service as the protest unfolded.

      The government has failed to bring the rial under control despite several attempts. It has lost 57% of its value in the past three months and 75% in comparison with the end of last year. The dollar is now three times stronger than early last year. The economy minister, Shamseddin Hosseini, said the government planned to "gather up" the unofficial currency market in the latest desperate ditch to curb the crisis.

      On Tuesday Iranian authorities announced they would send security services to calm the market but Wednesday's developments appear to show that the move has backfired.

      Ahmadinejad was bombarded with questions about the currency crisis on Tuesday as he spoke to reporters in a press conference but the embattled president, who is under fire from his conservative rivals, rejected the suggestion that it was the result of his economic policies or government incompetence.

      Instead, he blamed the rial's slump on his enemies abroad and opponents at home, saying his government was the victim of a "psychological war". Ahmadinejad acknowledged western sanctions have contributed to the crisis.

      An opinion poll posted on a conservative website, Khabaronline.ir, showed that more than 90% of those participated were not convinced with Ahmadinejad's responses on Tuesday.

      Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking to elites on Wednesday, said the country was under pressure because "it did not yield to the demands of tyrannies".

      Iran is one of the world's largest oil producers and relies on crude sales as the main source of its the foreign currency reserves. The latest US and EU embargo on the imports of Iranian oil has affected that reserve, sending the rial tailspinning and making the dollar hard to come by.

      Commenting on Iran's currency slump, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said that sanctions could be "remedied" swiftly if Tehran were cooperating with the international community to address the questions about its disputed nuclear programme.

      "They have made their own government decisions - having nothing to do with the sanctions - that have had an impact on the economic conditions inside of the country," Clinton told reporters.

      "Of course the sanctions have had an impact as well, but those could be remedied in short order if the Iranian government were willing to work with the P5+1 [the five security council members plus Germany] and the rest of the international community in a sincere manner," she added.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Iran's currency hits all-time low as western sanctions take their toll
      Rial sent into tailspin in spite of Ahmadinejad's defiance as Iranians rush to convert assets to foreign currency or gold
      Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Julian Borger
      guardian.co.uk, Monday 1 October 2012 18.24 BST

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/01/iran-currency-rial-all-time-low
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