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Friday
Jul222011

The Latest from Iran (22 July): Ahmadinejad Ready for Nuclear Talks?

2000 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Hadi Hamidi Shafigh, an ethnic right activist and member of the Azerbaijan National Movement, has reportedly been detained on the eve of his wedding.

Last month Shafigh was sentenced to six months imprisonment and 60 lashes for demanding Azerbaijani lunguage rights. He was chanting the slogan, "We want to study Azerbaijani language" during a football match in Tabriz on 1 May.

Shafigh has been arrested on several occasions dating back to 2006 and expelled from university.

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Friday
Jul222011

Syria Video Special: Friday's Protests Across the Country --- Set 2

Security forces beating protesters in a mosque in Aleppo

Tal Rifaat near Aleppo: "Why are you afraid? God is with us"

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Friday
Jul222011

Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Meanwhile in Bahrain...

Two-part video of a march, followed by a security force patrol, in Abu Siba in Bahrain on Thursday night

See our separate video blogs, Syria Video Special: Friday's Protests Across the Country Set 1 and Set 2


2136 GMT: James Miller sums up the day.

July 22nd will be remembered by the world, because of a terrible act of terrorism in Norway, the bombing outside the Prime Minister's office in Oslo and the shootings in Utoeya. Many died, and the country was terrorized, but history might miss what may be a more important story, with larger implications.

In Syria, July 22nd may be remembered as a turning point. There were massive demonstrations in every major region, and in every major city, in the country.

In our first video blog, Scott Lucas documented protests in Idlib in the northwest, Artouz (Damascus province), Binnish (northwest), a truly massive protest in Hama (claims of 650,000+ protesters in the streets), Aleppo, Saraqab (Idlib province), Qamishili (northeast), Horan (south), Kobanî (Ain Arab) and Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Ain) in the Kurdish area of Syria, Kafr Nabl in the northwest, and the Midan section at the heart of Damascus.

In our second video special, we see more massive protests in the Midan and Al-Qadam districts of Damascus, the suburbs of Damascus (Tal Rifaat, Harasta), huge crowds in Deir Ez Zor, northeast Syria, where as many as 550,000 gathered, Zabadani (north of Damascus), Idlib (northwest), Halfaya (Hama province), Jableh on the coast, Al-Raqqa, Lattakia, Homs, and the largest protest in Hama we've seen yet.

In one of the most important videos we've seen today, Syrian security bashes into the Amne Mosque in Aleppo, beating protesters. Perhaps even more important, the video we've posted below (1538) shows that military cadets joined the protesters in Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria, a city that has been unable to foster a sustained protest movement, but a city that erupted in protest today.

The security forces have fled Hama and Deir Ez Zor, they are trying to quell the protests in Homs and around Damascus and Aleppo, but they are not succeeding. It is hard to imagine that the regime has any strongholds of significance left. Through crackdowns, and threats of sectarian violence, the protests have only grown in both scale, scope, and reach. To repeat the rhetorical questions I asked earlier; Where AREN'T they protesting in Syria?

In Yemen, we also saw huge protests in several cities, where the protest movement also shows new signs of life (see videos at 1305).

We opened today's liveblog with Bahrain, so we'll close it with night protests in Bahrain.

1756 GMT: An activist translates this update from Shaam News:

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Friday
Jul222011

Syria Video Special: Friday's Protests Across the Country

Footage of a protest inside the Amne Mosque in Aleppo, disrupted by pro-regime men beating demonstrators

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Friday
Jul222011

Syria Feature: A US Plan to Replace Assad? (Ignatius)

As the Obama administration steps up its support for regime change in Syria, the Arab Spring is moving into what could be its hottest phase. The puzzle is how to help the Syrian opposition gain power without foreign military intervention — and without triggering sectarian massacres inside the country.

For months, as protests mounted in Syria, President Obama waited to see if President Bashar al-Assad could deliver on his talk of reform. Last week, the administration all but gave up on him and switched gears — and began working actively for a transition to a democratic regime.

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Friday
Jul222011

Iran Snapshot: The Supreme Leader's Economic Plan (Ghajar)

Ayatollah Khamenei at an Oil PlantOn July 19, Iran’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, published a “General Employment Policy” consisting of 13 goals or strategies to improve employment in Iran. The plan was an indirect but telling acknowledgement of Iran’s massive unemployment problem --- it follows just a week after statements by Khamenei to Iran’s Chamber of Commerce in which the Supreme Leader urged economic optimism and restraint in publishing discouraging items regarding the economy. The statement was published to virtually every state-owned or affiliated news agency in Farsi, as well as the the Supreme Leader’s website.

Ayatollah Khamenei published the plan with advice from the Expediency Council, indicating once again the high level of importance placed upon solving the unemployment crisis in Iran. It is also worth noting that the Supreme Leader’s other statements the same week were translated into English on his website --- however, perhaps due to concerns over publicizing Iran’s unemployment situation, the 13-point plan is not featured in English on the site though a copy in Farsi was posted.

The Supreme Leader’s strategies for improving Iran’s abysmal unemployment situation are as follows:

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Thursday
Jul212011

The Latest from Iran (21 July): Stand By Your (Supreme) Man

2010 GMT: Literature Watch (cont.). More about the poetic debut of the head of the Basij militia, Mohammad Reza Naqdi (see 0710 GMT)....

Naqdi's effort, which has failed to impress our Literary Correspondent, is titled “The Youth and Soft War", rhythmically (or not-so-rhythmically) takes on Twitter, Facebook, rap music, and jazz. The opening lines, which may lose a bit in translation:

He [ failed in hunting me with his gun. He came back with lowly hired musicians, the Internet, and musical instruments/


His navy hasn’t been able to rein me in. He came with an eye-catching doll/
Bombs and missiles failed to scare me. He came back with the rumor-spreading Twitter and Facebook/
He used chemical weapons and I still didn’t back off. He came with crack and heroin.

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Thursday
Jul212011

Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Can the Regime "Lose" Homs?

2100 GMT: Night-time protest in Daraa in southern Syria tonight, "Oh Homs, Daraa is with you until death":

And a demonstration in the Tayba Al-Imam section in Hama also expresses solidarity:

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Thursday
Jul212011

Iran Special: Revisiting the Horrors of Kahrizak Prison --- The Guilty, the Victims, and Their Families

A Memorial to 3 Who Died at Kahrizak“Kahrizak” ---- Although familiar to locals, the word was only elevated to heights of infamy, in the most bitter, painful and tragic ways, in the disputed 2009 Presidential election.  The public --- both domestic and foreign --- learned about a place called Kahrizak Prison, a detention centre where those protesting the election results were subject to mistreatment, beatings, abuse, torture, and, in some cases, death.

Kahrizak is located on the south side of Shahr Ray, a small town south of Tehran.  Under a plan introduced in 2004, with the pretext of “collecting the gangs and thugs”, the Islamic Republic’s security forces began using Kahrizak as a holding place for  those arrested.  Shortly afterward, scores of journalists, human rights activists, and the Prisoners Rights Defense Committee (PRDC) began objecting to the mistreatment of the detaineds.  The journalist and human rights activist, Shiva Nazar Ahari, and PRDC member Mehdi Mahmoudian were among the activists raising public awareness about the dire conditions. 

But the efforts of Mahmoudian and other journalists and human rights activists fell short of drawing local or foreign attention to the real magnitude of the catastrophe.  Many of those protesting the 2009 election were transferred to Kahrizak where, according to eyewitnesses, they ended up in groups of 30-40 shoved inside containers with a maximum capacity of 10 people.  The detainees were kept in the worst possible physical and sanitary conditions, in the scorching summer heat, inside these containers.  They were repeatedly tortured.  Many of them, according to other prisoners and former officials, were raped.  

This is why the word Kahrizak is now intertwined with and reminiscent of several people’s names: from those in charge of this prison, to those beating and torturing the prisoners, to the whistleblowers of the place, and finally to the victims of the unspeakably brutal violence inflicted in the centre.

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Thursday
Jul212011

Yemen 1st-Hand: "They Want to Turn the Revolution into a Tribal War" (Worth)

Freedom Square, Taiz, YemenThe events in Taiz took on a tragic dimension that went beyond the numbers of dead and wounded. Taiz is Yemen’s least tribal city, home to the highest number of educated people, professionals and traders. The city was “the heart of the revolution,” in one popular refrain, and its protesters were less politicized and more rigorously nonviolent than elsewhere in Yemen. The attack on May 29, with its deliberate cruelty and excess, confirmed what many Yemenis feared: that Saleh sees the democratic uprising as a greater threat to his power than Al Qaeda. The burning of the Taiz square, after all, coincided with the collapse of all government authority in large areas of south Yemen, where heavily armed jihadist groups have captured two towns and several villages. In the northwestern province of Saada, too, a militia movement now reigns supreme; they recently elected Yemen’s biggest arms dealer as their new governor. All this has implications that go well beyond Yemen’s remote mountains and deserts — the chaos in the north, for instance, threatens to set off a proxy conflict between the region’s two great nemeses, Saudi Arabia and Iran — and the Yemeni military has done little to oppose any of it.

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