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Iran joins the fray of mass protests

International | The Islamic country’s government ends unrest with internet blackout
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 11/26/19, 12:55 pm

Full internet access slowly returned across Iran over the weekend, ending a crackdown on protests the Islamic government labeled as an enemy plot. The clashes echoed ongoing, sporadic outbursts of frustration over repressive leadership throughout the Middle East.

Tens of thousands of people stormed the streets in 100 cities and towns after the Iranian government announced a 50 percent increase in gas prices on Nov. 15. Protesters burned down banks and gas stations, while others chanted, “Down with Khamenei,” referring to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

In an attempt to control the protests, the government imposed a near-total nationwide internet shutdown for five days. It began to restore access late Thursday. But Iranians could only view some local government-controlled websites. The web blackout made it difficult to confirm the extent of the clashes, but Amnesty International reported that at least 106 people in 21 cities died. State media noted that authorities detained more than 1,000 protesters.

In a video that surfaced after the ban lifted, more than 100 people scattered as gunfire echoed from a police station in Shiraz, some 420 miles south of Tehran. Mana Mostatabi, the communications director at the Washington-based National Iranian American Council, described the blackout as scary. She could not reach her family back in Iran, sending several messages on WhatsApp that failed to deliver.

Mostatabi noted other countries have shut down internet access during protest movements. She called on governments to recognize internet access as an essential right. “It allows people to keep their governments accountable,” Mostatabi said. “It’s the scale of the crackdown we should be concerned about.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Iranians in a tweet to send videos documenting the government’s response to the protests. “The U.S. will expose and sanction the abuses,” he wrote.

The Iranian government said it raised fuel prices to generate about $2.55 billion a year for subsidies for 18 million low-income families. The nation’s economy took a hit after the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran last year and imposed sanctions on the country. The value of Iranian currency dropped, and medical and food shortages became widespread.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the conflict on a plot by the “Zionists and Americans,” adding, “The Iranian people have again succeeded in a historic test and shown they will not let enemies benefit from the situation, even though they might have complaints about the country’s management.”

State media on Monday broadcast thousands of pro-government demonstrators chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”

Similar protests have hit other areas of the Middle East. Demonstrations erupted last month in Lebanon and have grown into calls for a new government. Last week, protesters in Beirut celebrated the suspension of a parliamentary session, which they said failed to address their demands.

A lack of jobs and basic services also sparked protests in Iraq. Many of the demonstrators blame Iran’s influence in their country for poor conditions. Some 700 pages of leaked documents published last week by The Intercept and The New York Times revealed the extent of Iran’s infiltration into Iraq’s political, economic, and religious affairs. The documents confirmed the presence of Iranian spies in Iraq and that Iran paid Iraqi agents working for the United States to switch sides.

“Ask any Iraqi, we know that the Iranians have the influence to pick the prime minister and meddle in religious parties,” 76-year-old Abu Hayder told Al-Jazeera. “One of the reasons for the protest is to stop Iran from intervening in our affairs.”

Associated Press/Mali Army Associated Press/Mali Army A funeral ceremony in Gao, Mali, on Wednesday

More bloodshed in Mali, Burkina Faso

Some 24 Malian soldiers died in an extremist attack last week as a security crisis deepened in Africa’s Sahel region.

The attack occurred as troops carried out a joint operation with the Nigerien military along the border in the northeastern Gas region, the Malian army said in a statement. Close to 30 soldiers sustained injuries, while 17 extremists died in the clash. Islamic State claimed responsibility.

The latest assault brings the number of Malian soldiers killed in recent weeks to more than 100.

This month, at least 37 people have died in clashes in neighboring Burkina Faso, where extremists targeted a convoy with employees of a Canadian mining company.

The United Nations said last week that more than 860,000 people have had to flee their homes in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. In its annual report on extremism, the U.S. State Department warned affiliates of al-Qaeda, Islamic State, and other groups that have expanded their operations across the three countries over the past year. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Juan Karita Associated Press/Photo by Juan Karita Bolivian interim President Jeanine Áñez at the presidential palace, in La Paz on Monday

Bolivia agrees on election redo

Interim President Jeanine Áñez on Sunday approved a new election after lawmakers annulled the results of the contentious Oct. 20 vote. She appointed a board to schedule a new date. The legislation excludes any contender who served two consecutive terms as leader, blocking former President Evo Morales from running.

Morales sought an unconstitutional fourth term in the most recent vote and had to flee to Mexico amid the unrest that followed. Officials said at least 32 people died in the ensuing demonstrations. Morales’ Movement for Socialism party has agreed to present a new candidate for the next vote. Streets reopened following the announcement, but some tension remains since Morales’ party retains a parliamentary majority. On Saturday, Áñez rejected a bill from the party that sought to block any criminal charges against the former president. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Al-hadji Kudra Maliro Associated Press/Photo by Al-hadji Kudra Maliro Smoke rises from the UN compound in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Monday.

Protests, attacks shake Congo

An Islamist attack last week in the eastern Congolese city of Beni spurred civilian protests that killed at least four people on Monday. Protesters torched the town hall and several United Nations buildings. At least 10 others sustained injuries in the ensuing clashes with security forces.

Last week, the Ugandan-based Allied Democratic Forces killed at least seven people in Beni. In a separate attack in the village of Mavete, the extremists killed 12 others and burned down a church.

The protesters are upset that the UN and the Congolese government have failed to put an end to insurgent attacks. The government called for calm and said the military would set up a joint headquarters with UN peacekeepers in Beni.

Aid workers also called for peace, warning the violence would affect the response to the country’s persistent battle against the Ebola virus and measles.

Helen Barclay-Hollands, World Vision’s eastern zone country director, said the unrest halted health efforts in Beni. “This outbreak of violence could not have come at a worse time,” she said. “We were just about getting on top of the Ebola epidemic, and aid agencies were scaling up their efforts to contain measles, which has killed just over 4,000 people in the country so far.” —O.O.

Facebook/Esther Cho Facebook/Esther Cho Jinwook Kim

Korean evangelist slain in Turkey

An unidentified assailant killed a Korean evangelist in Diyarbakir, Turkey, last week, according to International Christian Concern. The attacker stabbed Jinwook Kim twice in the heart and once in the back.

Local Christians argued religious animosity motivated the assassination, not a botched robbery. Turkish officials claimed the attacker was trying to steal Kim’s phone. They have arrested a suspect, but the investigation is still underway.

Kim had recently started pastoring a small church in Diyarbakir after living in Turkey for five years.

A Turkish evangelist who received a death threat one day after the attack called Kim Turkey’s first martyr since 2007. “This wasn’t just a robbery; they came to kill him,” he told ICC. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Kerstin Joensson (file) Associated Press/Photo by Kerstin Joensson (file) Adolf Hitler’s birth house in Braunau am Inn, Austria

Police moving into Hitler’s house

The birth home of Adolf Hitler will serve as a police station, ending years of debate on how to prevent it from turning into a pilgrimage site. The Nazi leader spent the first few weeks after he was born in a room in a 17th-century building in the town of Braunau am Inn, Austria.

The Austrian government bought the building in 2016 under a compulsory purchase order. It once served as a day center for people with disabilities, and plans to turn it into a refugee center in 2014 failed.

Architects will submit plans this month for a building redesign.

“The house’s future use by the police should send an unmistakable signal that this building will never again evoke the memory of National Socialism,” said Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Peschorn. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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    Posted: Wed, 11/27/2019 02:23 pm

    Demolish it and rebuild in its place!