We're getting closer to the final whistle for Iran's regime

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It’s the last thing the regime in Tehran wants, but opposition to its rule is finding a way of getting its message out beyond the suppression of mass protests at home.

Last Wednesday saw the passing of the 40th day of mourning for Mahsa Amini - a day which is culturally significant for Iranians.

It was back on 13 September that 22-year-old Amini was arrested by morality police in Tehran for allegedly violating Iran's strict rules requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab, or headscarf.

Amini’s subsequent death in custody was the spark that led to nationwide protests that have now lasted for more than six weeks and presented the biggest challenge to the regime in years.

While Iranians of all ages, ethnicities and genders have joined in the demonstrations it is mainly younger generations that have taken to the streets.

“Women started this wave of protest,” says Ramyar Hassani, spokesman for the Norway- based Hengaw Organisation for Human Rights.

“But everyone else joined. Women and men are shoulder-to-shoulder. All of Iran is united,” Hassani told the television network Euronews a few days ago, adding that nearly every type of “peaceful, non-violent” protest has been used in Iran.

Those protests continued on Friday which saw a surge of demonstrations in Sistan and Baluchistan province with huge crowds on the streets particularly in Zahedan.

Likewise in the capital, Tehran, people converged in the streets in various neighbourhoods and security forces fired on unarmed protesters wounding and killing some.

To date at least 402 people, including 58 children, have been killed and hundreds injured with people shot just for sounding their car horns in support of the protestors as Iran’s security services continue with a brutal crackdown.

According to Iranwire, a news agency set up by Iranian journalists among the country’s diaspora, many journalists (including those who first reported Amini’s death), lawyers, celebrities, sports stars and civil society groups have now been arrested.

But despite the regime’s efforts to quell dissent using the infinite tools for repression at its disposal, not only are the protests maintaining momentum at home but are now beginning to resonate far beyond Iran’s borders.

Already demonstrations under the slogan “Women, life, liberty” have taken place in many major cities including, New York, Paris, London, Melbourne, Stockholm, Sydney, Rome and Auckland.

While young Iranians continue what is now almost two months of street protests, other countries are looking at whether there are things they can do to support Iranians demands for more freedom.

Last Thursday in Geneva newly appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk made a strong appeal to Iranian authorities to stop their “unnecessary and disproportionate” use of force against protesters in Iran in a speech to the Human Rights Council on the ongoing crisis.

The UN body was debating a motion brought by a group of some 50 countries led by Germany and Iceland to create a new investigative fact-finding mission to probe alleged abuses by the Iranian regime since the protests in the country began.

“We are now in a full-fledged human rights crisis,” Turk said in his first address to the council since starting last month.

“The unnecessary and disproportionate use of force must come to an end,” Turk added, before pointing out that so far, more than 400 people have been killed in the protests and around 14,000 have been arrested.

But while the intervention of an international body like the UN is to be welcomed, it remains Iranians themselves that are driving home their calls for freedom on the global platform at every level.

Last week it was Iran’s football team that made their political presence felt with all but two players refusing to sing their national anthem at the World Cup in Qatar.

Few doubt that those players who made such a public show of dissent will face stiff punishment on returning home. This has only further angered fans of Team Melli as “The National Team” is affectionately known in the Persian language.

As Golnar Nikpour a scholar of modern Iranian intellectual and cultural history explained in the New York Times a few days ago, whatever the outcome of Team Melli’s matches, “by standing in solidarity with protesters at considerable personal risk, they have already won.”



Syria: Tensions rise as Erdogan threatens land invasion against Kurds 


It’s codename “Operation Claw-Sword,” pretty much says all you need to know. While the world’s focus of late has understandably been on Ukraine, another major conflict which has dropped from the headlines is once again set to make its presence felt.

In short, Syria's Kurds, are bracing for a Turkish military land offensive against their autonomous northern region. The Kurds, an ethnic minority who live in mountainous regions across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, have long fought for their own homeland, and Turkey brands their separatist groups “terrorists”.

Blaming Kurdish armed groups for a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul this month, an accusation they have strongly rejected, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has in the past week launched a series of airstrikes against Kurdish groups in northern Syria and warned that a ground operation will soon follow.

In addition to this threat the Kurds face an additional one as relations between their Turkish foes and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appear to be warming up. The potential for a dangerous escalation is obvious in a region where US and Russian troops are also present,

“This is not limited to just an air campaign,” Erdogan told reporters, according to a statement from his office last week, after air strikes targeting the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) in Iraq and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), its Syrian affiliate.

“We will consult with our defence ministry and general staff and decide together the extent to which our land forces need to contribute, then take our steps accordingly,” the statement quoted Erdogan as saying.

The northern Syrian area targeted by Erdogan includes the three key towns of Manbij, Tel Rifaat and Kobani, which are under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The SDF, backed by the US, had been instrumental in the fight against the Islamic State group (IS). But its backbone is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Turkey considers a wing of the PKK and seeks to eliminate.

Analysts point out that it’s not the first time Erdogan has vowed to launch an incursion into northern Syria.

That he hasn’t so far is most likely because the necessary green light from Russian president Vladimir Putin has not been forthcoming. Russia, along with Western countries and Iran, have repeatedly warned against a new Turkish ground offensive against the SDF. But this time things could be different not least because Russia’s is preoccupied with its difficulties in Ukraine.

Any Turkish large-scale land operation could affect relations with Russia, whose troops have operated in areas controlled by the YPG since 2019, when Turkey last sent in troops into the area to expel Kurdish forces.

More significantly perhaps it could strain ties with the US, which arms and trains the SDF to fight terrorists of the Islamic State group.

Only yesterday the US military reported two rocket attacks had targeted its patrol base in northeastern Syria but said there were no injuries to its forces. It did not say who was behind the rocket fire.

Should Erdogan’s “Operation Claw-Sword,” move into full mode then tensions are sure to rise across the region and the consequences, not least for the Kurds, could be calamitous to say the least.


China: Authorities face increasing unrest over extended Covid lockdowns 


To many of us here in the West with every day that passes the experience of Covid lockdown becomes further consigned to the past. But things could not be more different in parts of the country from which the virus first emerged.

While China defends President Xi Jinping's signature zero-Covid policy as life-saving and necessary to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system, there are sign of impatience among sections of the population who continue to experience extended periods of lockdown.

Many China watchers and analysts had thought a batch of more moderate Covid control measures announced by the country’s cabinet on November 11 would mark the start of a shift to living with the virus.

Instead however confusing signals from Beijing have stoked a growing Covid outbreak, with new cases nearing a record 30,000 per day meaning swathes of China’s population have once again been locked down in an effort to cut transmission.

Last Friday in one city alone, Zhengzhou, home to the world’s largest iPhone factory, six million people were under Covid lockdown, after clashes between police and workers furious over pay.

Authorities have ordered residents of eight districts in Zhengzhou, in the central province of Henan, not to leave the area for the next five days, building barriers around “high-risk” apartment buildings and setting up checkpoints to restrict travel.

Elsewhere this weekend China put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country's longest lockdowns, with many of the region’s 4 million residents in the capital city Urumqi barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days.

Yesterday, authorities in the city said they would ease the lockdown “in stages”, following protests over a deadly fire at an apartment building.

At least 10 people were killed and nine injured in the fire and public anger boiled over with the emergence of video footage that appears to show lockdown measures delaying firefighters from accessing the scene and reaching victims.

But despite the anger few expect any real shift in policy from the authorities after the country yesterday reported just under 32,000 new cases nationwide — the third consecutive daily record according to the National Health Commission.

Some of China’s biggest cities, including Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongqing, are now recording their biggest outbreaks. With unrelenting zero-Covid lockdowns continuing there is a feeling in many quarters that the restrictions – not the virus – are increasingly to blame for deaths. According to Freedom House, a pro-democracy organisation based in Washington DC, dozens of Covid - related protests have been recorded over recent months and with no signs of an easing in lockdowns more are almost certain to come.


France: The politics of the corrida as popularity of bullfighting surges in the south 


Given today’s prevailing values and attitudes towards blood sports bullfighting certainly seems like an anachronism.

Not so it seems in France, yes you heard right, France, where a bid to ban bullfighting was abandoned last week after a bill that would have made it illegal was withdrawn by the campaigning left-wing politician behind it.

Aymeric Caron a radio and television journalist turned left MP from the France Unbowed party blamed “obstruction” from fellow politicians who filed more than 500 amendments to his draft legislation, which prevented a vote in the national assembly.

Think bullfighting and in your mind’s eye you probably conjure up a cape twirling scene in Spain or even Latin America but in fact such spectacles appear to be waning in both.

Bullfighting has been banned in the north-eastern Spanish region of Catalonia, some Mexican states and several countries in South America, but it is still legal elsewhere in Spain and in Portugal, as well as Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.

According to experts while there’s a record of bull running in France in 1289, the bloody Spanish-style corrida, is said to have been imported in the 19th century for the benefit of the Spanish-born wife of Napoleon III.

Today even though polls show that as many as 77 per cent of people in France want an end to bullfights, the “sport” is seeing a surge of popularity in southern parts of the country.

Last weekend, defenders of French bullfighting demonstrated in many of the 45 or so recognised villes taurines (bull towns) like Arles, Mont-de-Marsan and Dax.

Their main argument is that the corrida is an art form rooted in local society, and that banning it would be to trample over tradition and threaten jobs. For them as the BBC’s France correspondent Hugh Schofield wryly observed last week, “Aymeric Caron is the epitome of the metropolitan moralist they despise.”

In France even with bullfighting politics is never far away with reports that the Elysee Palace is wary of a ban, believing it would exacerbate tensions between city and country, and Paris and the regions.

But passions have been inflamed over the issue of a ban. A poster produced by France’s Society for the Protection of Animals shows a matador about to impale a dog with the caption: “If it were a dog would you accept it being killed ‘in the name of tradition’?”

Caron’s bill might have hit the buffers for now but the issue of a ban on bullfighting is not going away anytime soon.