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Death toll rises as Iran protests enter sixth day

Monitoring Desk

TEHRAN: At least 23 people have been killed and more than 500 reportedly detained -since anti-government protests erupted across Iran late last week.

According to local media outlets and state officials, four people were killed in Iran’s Lorestan province; two in Khuzestan province; three in Hamadan province; and 14 in Isfahan province, including a police officer.

While state officials say at least 500 others have been detained, unofficial sources put the number much higher.

On Thursday, thousands of people hit the streets in Iran’s northeastern cities of Mashhad and Kashmar to protest rising inflation and perceived government mismanagement, according to local media reports. Thursday’s protests were followed by a number of pro-government protests on Saturday.

On Sunday, President Hassan Rouhani warned citizens against joining the protests, which have since spread to a number of other urban centers.

“We must avoid putting the country in a situation that our enemies can take advantage of,” Rouhani said after a cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Khamenei says enemies have stirred unrest in country

Iran’s Supreme Leader on Tuesday accused enemies of the Islamic Republic of stirring unrest, as anti-government demonstrations that began last week continued.

“In recent days, enemies of Iran used different tools including cash, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatus to create troubles for the Islamic Republic,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying in a post on his official website.


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UN experts decry repression in Saudi Arabia, seek releases

Monitoring Desk

NEW YORK: United Nations human rights experts called on Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to end “repression” of rights activists and release dozens detained since September for peacefully exercising their civil and political rights.

More than 60 prominent clerics, writers, journalists, academics and activists are reported to have been detained in a wave of arrests since September, they said in a joint statement.

The crackdown on dissent has been denounced by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but strong criticism by the U.N. of the oil giant is rare.

There was no immediate reaction from the Saudi government. Riyadh says it does not have political prisoners, but senior officials have said monitoring of activists is needed to maintain social stability.

“We are witnessing the persecution of human rights defenders for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and belief, as well as in retaliation for their work,” the five independent experts said.

They decried a “worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention” through the kingdom’s use of counter-terrorism and security-related laws. Prominent Islamist preacher Salman al-Awdah, whom the U.N. experts described as a “reformist” and an influential religious figure who has urged greater respect for human rights within Sharia, is among those held, they said.

They also named academic and writer Abdullah al-Maliki, entrepreneur Essam al-Zamel, and Abdulaziz Al Shubaily and Issa bin Hamid al-Hamid of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rig-hts Association as detainees.

“Despite being elected as member of the Human Rights Council at the end of 2016, Saudi Arabia has continued its practice of silencing, arbitrarily arresting, detaining and persecuting human rights defenders and critics,” the experts said.

The U.N. investigators have global mandates on arbitrary detention, human rights defenders, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief, and protection of human rights while countering terrorism. The statement did not mention the arrests in November of some 200 princes, ministers and business leaders

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Trump: US watching Iran protests amid unrest

Monitoring Desk

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday that the US is watching as mass demonstrations persist throughout Iran’s major population centers.

“The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian reg-ime,” Trump tweeted. “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”

Trump was apparently referring to sanctions relief given to Iran as part of an international deal with world powers to curb its nuclear program, as well as a cash payout provided to Iran under the Barack Obama administration.

Thousands of Iranians hit the streets beginning Thursday in the northeastern cities of Mashhad and Kashmar to protest rising commodity prices and perceived government mismanagement, according to local media reports. The demonstrations have since spread, including to the capital Tehran.

At least 23 people have been killed and more than 500 reportedly detained in the six days of demonstrations.

In addition, approximately 400 people have been detained, including 200 in Tehran. The other arrests were reported in Arak, Isfahan and Robat Karim and West Azerbaijan province.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed the unrest on foreign powers whom he called the “enemies of Iran. “In recent events, the enemies of Iran united by using different tools in their disposition, including money, weapons, politics and intelligence, in order to create problems for the Islamic system,” Khamenei said Tuesday in comments posted to his official website.


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700 abductees of Boko Haram escapes captivity

Monitoring Desk

LAGOS NIGERIA: No fewer than 700 captives in Boko Haram strongholds in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state have escaped as government troops said it targeted militants’ infrastructure.

In a statement, Col. Timothy Antigha, an army spokesman, said that it conducted operations in Chikun Gudu area of the restive state and successfully destroyed Boko Haram’s infrastructure and logistics such as communication centers, bomb making equipment and vehicles.

“The ensuing collapse of their command structure and means of survival have therefore triggered the abandonment of the islands and escape of the abductees to Monguno,” Antigha said.

“So far, over 700 former Boko Haram abductees, comprising adult males, females and children, have been received by troops of 242 Battalion in Monguno. Profiling of the displaced persons is on-going to ensure that no terrorist takes advantage of the situation to sneak into the town,” he added.

At least two pregnant women among the captives have delivered babies, according to Antigha. He said troops are now focused on hunting Boko Haram commanders.

Boko Haram, meanwhile, has continued to launch skeletal attacks in remote areas of northeastern Borno and Yobe.

Local newspapers reported an attack on a troops’ position on Monday night that killed at least five soldiers. The report claimed that 30 other soldiers are still missing.

The army’s spokesmen have not spoken on the purported incident.

On Tuesday, Boko Haram factional chief Abubakar Shekau appeared in 31-minute footage, claiming the group remains intact and healthy.

The footage was Shekau’s first in many months, apparently suggesting increasing pressure on the group.

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Saudi prince goes on hunger strike over royal purge

Monitoring Desk

RIYADH: Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz, the half-brother of Saudi’s King Salman, has gone on a hunger strike since his three sons, including Crown Prince al Waleed bin Talal, who is the richest man in Saudi Arabia, were arrested in an “anti-corruption” probe on Nov. 4 in the kingdom.

He stopped eating on Nov. 10, lost 10 kilograms since then, and is being treated at the King Faisal Hospital in Riyadh, according to reports.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had arrested hundreds of top figures such as princes, including Prince al Waleed bin Talal, businessmen and former ministers as part of the operation.

Also known as the Red Prince, 86-year-old Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz led the pro-reform Free Princes Mo-vement and campaigned for a constitutional monarchy in 1958, which consisted of a c-onstitution involving the pr-ogress regarding human righ-ts. He also tried to form a committee of advisors including elected members, but his attempts were deemed inappropriate by the king and religious leaders.

He was faced with a fatwa (religious edict) stating that his constitution violated sharia laws.

His passport was annulled in 1961, and he moved to Egypt introducing himself as a socialist. Being influenced by former Egyptian Prime Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser, Talal criticized the royal administration and continued his efforts for innovation.

Recently, the Saudi government demanded $6 billion from the prince for his release. The 62-year-old crown prince is known as the 57th richest person of the world, with his estimated net worth of $18.7 billion.

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China urges world to acknowledge Pakistan’s outstanding contributions to combat terrorism

BEIJING (NNI): China on Tuesday reiterated that Pakistan had made enormous sacrifices for the fight against terrorism and the international community should acknowledge its outstanding contributions to the global cause of counter terrorism.

“Pakistan has made enormous efforts and sacrifices for the fight against terrorism and has made very outstanding contribution to the global cause of counter-terrorism. The international community should acknowledge that,” Spokesperson of Chinese Foreign Ministry, Gen Shuang said while responding to a question about the US President’s statement regarding Pakistan’s role in the fight against terrorism, during his regular briefing here.

The spokesperson said that international community should acknowledge the role Pakistan played in the fight against terrorism and the sacrifices it rendered during the anti-terrorism campaign.

China, he said, glad to see Pakistan engaged in international cooperation including in the counter terrorism on the basis of mutual respect so as to contribute regional peace and stability.

“China and Pakistan are all-weather partners and we stand ready to promote and deepen our all round cooperation for bringing benefits to the two sides,” he added.

When asked would this criticism affect cooperation against terrorism in the region, he said that foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan recently held a tripartite dialogue in the Chinese capital and agreed to further deepen their coordination and cooperation in the fight against terrorism and indiscriminately combat all terrorist groups and terrorists.

He expressed the confidence that the three countries would continue to push for the cooperation among them in the fight against terrorism.

Earlier, Islamabad called on the US envoy to Pakistan David Hale to explain Donald Trump’s claims that Pakistan was harboring and aiding militants from neighboring Afghanistan.

Hale was summoned to the Foreign Office, hours after the US president used his first tweet in 2018 to slam Pakistan for “lies & deceit.” Trump also hinted at cutting or limiting US aid to Pakistan.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

The US embassy to Pakistan confirmed that the meet took place but refused to provide details on the conversation. “We don’t have any comment on the substance of the meeting,” a spokesman said.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said Trump’s comments were motivated by US failures in Afghanistan. Asif also said Pakistan did not need US aid. “He has tweeted against us and Iran for his domestic consumption,” Asif told a private TV channel on Monday.

“He is, again and again, displacing his frustrations on Pakistan over failures in Afghanistan as they are trapped in dead-end street in Afghanistan.”

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India buys Israeli missiles ahead of Netanyahu visit

NEW DELHI (AFP): India is to buy 131 surface-to-air missiles from Israel in a $70 million deal, the defence ministry announced Tuesday ahead of a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Barak missiles made by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems are to be used for India’s first aircraft carrier which is under construction.

Netanyahu will lead a business delegation to India on a four-day trip expected in mid-January.

Israel has become a major defence supplier to India, selling an average of $1 billion of military equipment each year.

Last April the two countries signed a military deal worth nearly $2 billion which includes the supply over several years of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communications technology.

It was unclear whether the deal announced Tuesday was part of that.

The Indian defence ministry also said it had approved the purchase of 240 bombs from Russia’s JSC Rosonboron Exports for $188 million.

“This procurement will address the deficiency of precision-guided munitions in the Indian Air Force (IAF) arsenal, besides enhancing the offensive capabilities of the IAF,” it said in a statement.

India, which has longstanding territorial disputes with its neighbours China and Pakistan, has signed several big-ticket defence deals since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014.

It has however been moving away from relying on traditional ally Russia for military hardware.

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Trump denounces ‘brutal and corrupt’ Iranian regime

WASHINGTON (AFP): President Donald Trump praised Iranian protesters on Tuesday for acting against Tehran’s “brutal and corrupt” regime after days of bloody unrest, while also lashing out at his predecessor Barack Obama.

“The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” Trump tweeted, a day after calling for regime change in the Islamic republic.

“All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!”

The comments were Trump’s latest hint of a possible US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – that was a signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration.

Trump has been vocal on Twitter about the protests in Iran since they erupted last week.

On Monday, he said it was “time for change” in Iran and that the country’s people were “hungry” for freedom.

In response to Trump’s latest Twitter attack, Iran’s foreign ministry said the US president should focus on “homeless and hungry people” in his own country rather than insulting Iranians.

“Instead of wasting his time sending useless and insulting tweets regarding other countries, he would be better off seeing to the domestic issues of his own country such as daily killings of dozens of people… and the existence of millions of homeless and hungry people,” said ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has hit back at Trump’s comments, saying the US leader – whose “whole being is against the nation of Iran – has “no right” to sympathise with protesters.

Protests began in Iran’s second largest city Mashhad and quickly spread to become the biggest challenge to the government since mass demonstrations in 2009.

Iranian officials have said online accounts in the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia are fomenting protests, which Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed on the country´s “enemies.”

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Ex-Indian army officer kills six with iron rod

NEW DELHI (AFP): A former army lieutenant bludgeoned six people to death with an iron rod Tuesday in a killing spree that sparked panic in a northern Indian city.

Naresh Dhankar, 45, began his murderous rampage in a hospital in Palwal then walked the city’s streets picking victims at random, police said.

Three watchmen were among those who died in the attacks.

“He attacked a woman at a hospital first. We rushed there and as we were scanning the CCTV footage we got to know that more bodies had been found,” said police spokesman Sanjay Kumar.

“The accused has been arrested and is currently undergoing treatment at a hospital,” the spokesman told AFP. A TV grab showed Dhankar, wearing a blue pullover, walking with an iron rod in his hands.

As news of the attacks spread on social media, police appealed to residents of the city in Haryana state not to panic. Kumar quoted Dhankar’s wife as saying he had been “mentally disturbed” for the past few days.

“We are investigating to find out the exact motive behind the killings,” the spokesman said.

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Turkey ‘concerned’ by Iran protests, warns against escalation

ISTANBUL (AFP): Turkey on Tuesday said was “concerned” by days-long protests that have engulfed neighbouring Iran, warning against any escalation in the unrest.

“Turkey is concerned by news the protests in Iran… are spreading, causing casualties and also the fact that some public buildings were damaged,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, adding “common sense should prevail to prevent any escalation.”

Khamenei blames Iran’s enemies

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran’s “enemies” were orchestrating a plot to infiltrate and target the regime as he broke his silence on the days of unrest rocking the country.

“In the events of recent days, the enemies have united and are using all their means, money, weapons, policies and security services to create problems for the Islamic regime,” Khamenei said in a statement shown on state television.

“The enemy is always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation,” he added.

A total of 21 people have died in five days of unrest across the country which began as protests over the economy before quickly turning against the Islamic regime as a whole.

“What can stop the enemy from acting is the spirit of courage, sacrifice and faith of the people,” he said, speaking to a gathering of war widows and their families.

450 people arrested over three days in Tehran

Some 450 people have been arrested in the Iranian capital over the past three days during unrest linked to protests, an official told local media.

“200 people were arrested on Saturday, 150 on Sunday and around 100 on Monday,” Ali-Asghar Naserbakht, a deputy in the Tehran city governor´s office, told the reformist-linked ILNA news agency.