Apologies to our readers, but because of events in Tunisia, our updates on Iran will not update today. We will have a full round-up of latest events on Saturday morning.
2345 GMT: Al Arabiya reports that President Ben Ali's plane has landed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
2155 GMT: President Obama has issued a statement:
I condemn and deplore the use of violence against citizens peacefully voicing their opinion in Tunisia, and I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people. The United States stands with the entire international community in bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights that we must all uphold, and we will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard. I urge all parties to maintain calm and avoid violence, and call on the Tunisian government to respect human rights, and to hold free and fair elections in the near future that reflect the true will and aspirations of the Tunisian people.
As I have said before, each nation gives life to the principle of democracy in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people, and those countries that respect the universal rights of their people are stronger and more successful than those that do not. I have no doubt that Tunisia's future will be brighter if it is guided by the voices of the Tunisian people.
I will be away in Manchester on business for the Journal of American Studies today.
EA staff have a lot for you to consider, however, with features on Belarus, Tunisia, Iran, Afghanistan, and the US.
The Iran and Tunisia LiveBlogs will resume in late afternoon. In the meantime, we we welcome latest news and comments from our readers on this thread.
For days we have held onto this document from WikiLeaks. Now, in light of events, it seems appropriate to bring it out.
In July 2009, the US Embassy in Tunis takes a long look at a "troubled" Tunisia:
President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is sclerotic and there is no clear successor. Many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities. Extremism poses a continuing threat. Compounding the problems, the GOT brooks no advice or criticism, whether domestic or international. Instead, it seeks to impose ever greater control, often using the police.
How then to achieve US goals?
The answer in the final sentence seems all too vague and perhaps now obsolete: "The US government should press for the hard work of real cooperation."
For many weeks, we have been following the battle within the Iranian establishment. One of the key fronts in that conflict, which may or may not be to the political death, is over Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, President Ahmadinejad's good friend, close advisor, and Chief of Staff.
In this week's updates alone, we have noted criticism of Rahim-Mashai by clerics, politicians, and newspapers, the announcement by a Parliamentary commission of a "special case" investigation into his activities, and even the claim that he gave away $150 vouchers to local VIPs so they would attend his speech. This, however, may be the most intriguing manoeuvre....
The "hard-line" Mashregh News alleged that Rahim-Mashai is lying when he claims to hold a degree from Chabahar University. It said he paid no fees and asked how he could have completed the studies when he holds 20 official jobs.
Tom Ricks ran a guest-post today by Paula Broadwell, a former adviser to General Petraeus [commander of US forces in Afghanistan] and current PhD candidate at King’s College London, who is touring the war on a research trip. It is, in a word, abhorrent.
Start with the title: “Travels with Paula (I): A time to build.” It’s so… hopeful. So upbeat. The soldiers and Marines are building a glorious new future! The photos and story, however, tell a different story.
The repercussions and the debate around this episode will continue for years. But you can be certain that a question poseed elsewhere --- “Where did the alleged attacker Jared Lee Loughner get the gun?” --- will not be a priority in America. From The New York Times to The Washington Post to CNN and MNSBC, this query was not being posed, let alone answered. No one wants to touch the subject of gun ownership. It has become the third rail of politics.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe agreed on Wednesday to a statement about “the worrying developments that took place in Belarus following the Presidential elections held on 19 December 2010 [which] raise a number of questions". The Committee asked for "additional information on what basis the presidential candidates, journalists, and human rights activists were arrested in the wake of the elections", demanding their immediate release, and insisted, "Political freedoms should be fully respected.”
The Committee warned that it "will continue supporting the establishment of closer relations between the Council of Europe and Belarus only on the basis of respect for European values and principles".
But will the statements matter?