As Israel Celebrates Dream of Independence, Many See Nightmare Taking Shape

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

As Israel Celebrates Dream of Independence, Many See Nightmare Taking Shape

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A worker hung flags next to the entrance to the American consulate in Jerusalem last week.CreditRonen Zvulun/Reuters

JERUSALEM — When Israel declared its independence in 1948, President Harry Truman rushed to recognize it. He took just 11 minutes, and Israelis, about to go to war to defend their infant state, were euphoric.

Seventy years to the day — and nearly as long since Israel declared the holy city of Jerusalem its “eternal capital” — the United States will formally open its embassy on a hilltop here two miles south of the Western Wall.

The embassy’s move from Tel Aviv and President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — reversing decades of American foreign policy — comes at a moment so fraught with both pride and peril that Israelis seem not to know what to feel.

Israelis find it hard to rejoice when they find themselves doing some of the same things they did back in 1948: listening for civil-defense sirens, readying bomb shelters and calling in reinforcements to confront threats to the north, south and east.

An escalating shadow war with Iran has broken into the open, pitting Israel against its most powerful adversary in the region. A mass protest in Gaza has spurred thousands of Palestinians, encouraged by Hamas, to try to cross into Israel, whose snipers have killed scores and wounded thousands of them. The bloodshed has brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back onto the international agenda after years as an afterthought.

Now, in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, Israeli border police and troops are bracing for expressions of pent-up frustration, impatience and rage — at the United States for seeming to dispense with any pretense at balance; at Israel for its continuing occupation; at the Palestinian Authority for its weakness and corruption; and at the peace process itself, for inspiring hopes that have again and again proved false.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Mayor Nir Barkat of Jersualem looking at old and recent photos of the city on Sunday.CreditPool photo by Amir Cohen

“If you look at it from the outside, you’d see one of the most dramatic success stories of the 20th century,” said the historian Tom Segev, author of a new biography of Israel’s founding prime minister, “David Ben-Gurion: A State at All Costs.”

With Israel so strong and its Jewish population larger than ever, Mr. Segev said, “It’s really the realization of Ben-Gurion’s dream. But at the same time, the future is very bleak, and some of the problems he left us remain unresolved.”

It is hard for Israeli Jews to feel entirely at ease when they remain so estranged from one another and the nearly two million Arab citizens at home, and from millions of people next door: A lasting settlement with the Palestinians seems as elusive at it has been in more than a generation.

However besieged many Israelis may feel, objectively Israel has never been more powerful, in almost any sense of the word.

Its military routinely obliterates opposing forces with fighter jets, antimissile batteries and newfangled tunnel-destroying tools. Its spies whisk warehouses’ worth of secrets out from under its enemies’ noses. Its high-tech start-ups routinely sell for billions, its economy is the envy of the Middle East, its television shows thrive on Netflix. On Saturday, its entrant in the Eurovision Song Contest — a chicken-dancing feminist named Netta Barzilai — overcame a boycott attempt by Israel’s detractors to win by popular acclaim.

Warming relations with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf States are even buoying hopes that Israel could begin to expand its tiny circle of friends in the region.

Monday’s move of the American mission to a fortified former consulate along the seam between East and West Jerusalem, from a beachfront bastion in Tel Aviv, is freighted with symbolism in manifold ways.

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Palestinians protesters running for cover from Israeli tear gas during clashes near the border east of Gaza City last week.CreditMohammed Saber/EPA, via Shutterstock

But the relocation of the chief American outpost from liberal Tel Aviv, a blue dot on the red political map of Israel, to a capital city that has largely replaced its secular Israeli population with a more religious one, neatly mirrors what is happening to support for Israel in the United States.

Ben-Gurion was prime minister for 13 years, all told. Benjamin Netanyahu will surpass that record in mid-2019 if he holds on to office. That is far from assured: He faces possible indictment in a web of domestic corruption scandals, and criminal charges could cause his governing coalition to collapse.

President Trump has gone further than perhaps any of his predecessors to support Israel and its right-wing leader, and no American president has done more to bestow gifts on an Israeli leader than he has.

From recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to withholding money from the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees — an agency Mr. Netanyahu would like to see eliminated altogether — to pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement last week, Mr. Trump’s has showered Mr. Netanyahu with political prizes.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and a senior adviser on the Middle East, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are among the high-ranking representative sent by the administration to attend Monday’s opening ceremony. Israel said all 86 countries with diplomatic missions in the country were invited to the event, and 33 confirmed attendance.

To Palestinians, the official unveiling of the embassy is just the most concrete and latest in a cavalcade of provocations from Washington and the Israeli government.

“It’s might makes right,” said Hind Khoury, a former diplomat for the Palestine Liberation Organization who now heads a sustainable development nonprofit based in Bethlehem. Not only are Palestinians now expected to forget about Jerusalem, she said, but also the losses of their homes in 1948 and again in the fighting of 1967.

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Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at a reception ceremony on Sunday ahead of American Embassy’s move to Jerusalem.CreditAbir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

“Accept Israel’s presence and dominance,” she said. “Accept home demolitions and expulsions and dispossession.

“Accept the uprooting of our olive trees, the violence of settlers,” she continued, picking up steam. “Accept settlements. Accept Israel’s control of all the Jordan Valley, and using it for its economic benefit. Accept that Israel didn’t live up to any of its commitments. Accept the siege of Gaza. Accept that East Jerusalem doesn’t belong to us anymore. Accept the racist legislation that Israel passes; that we’re prisoners in our land: I can’t get a visa because we’re ‘all terrorists.’ Accept the use of ‘anti-Semitism’ to fight anybody who wants to support Palestinian rights.”

“These are things we have to accept, or we’ll just get more hell,” she said, before adding: “Maybe I speak more like a mother and grandmother, but it’s so sinful to give such a legacy to the next generation.”

For Israeli Jews, a different set of grievances is being assuaged and activated by Monday’s embassy opening and all it stirs up.

The American-Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi, whose new book “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor” is being published on Tuesday, sees the embassy move as a “rare moment of compensation” for what he called “the campaign to deny any Jewish connection to Jerusalem” — one expressed in votes of Unesco, or in the speeches of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, when he invokes the Christian and Muslim attachment to Jerusalem but pointedly omits any Jewish one.

“There’s this deep resentment among Israelis about the war against our history and our rootedness in this city,” Mr. Halevi said.

Still, noting that his book “about reconciliation with my Palestinian neighbors is coming out at one of the worst moments in the tortured history of our relationship,” Mr. Halevi said he wished the embassy move could be accompanied by some kind of “affirmation by both Israel and the United States of the Palestinian presence in the city we share.”

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Israelis marching near the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Sunday.CreditLior Mizrahi/Getty Images

“I don’t think we should be laying out blueprints,” he said. “We’re far from that. But there should be a clear stating of our recognition that we’re not alone in Jerusalem. This would be an apt moment for a generous Israeli statement.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s advocacy against the Iran deal during the Obama administration did much to sour Jewish Democrats on the Israeli leader. His abandonment of a painstakingly negotiated deal to give Reform and Conservative Jews a bigger stake in Jewish life in Israel, and approval of a measure granting the Orthodox chief rabbinate’s monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel, drove a wedge between liberal American Jews and Israeli religious leaders.

Other policies, like efforts to deport African migrants, and an ongoing legislative attack by Mr. Netanyahu’s political allies on democratic institutions like Israel’s Supreme Court, have only added to many liberal Americans’ discomfort with Israel.

In effect, as the Trump administration gives physical expression to its affection for Israel, a rift appears to be widening between the world’s two main centers of Jewish life.

The immediate threats to Israeli security could of course fizzle. The rift between American and Israeli Jews could heal with a new administration in either place, if not before. Even the risk posed by the embassy move could prove no more dampening to the celebration, in retrospect, than the smashing of a glass at a Jewish wedding.

And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Middle East peace process “is most decidedly not dead,” despite the embassy move, telling “Fox News Sunday” that the United States still hopes to be able to “achieve a successful outcome” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Segev, the biographer, said he had learned in his research that Ben-Gurion had never cared much for Jerusalem, and had refrained from trying to take the city in 1948 in part because he knew it would be difficult to guard its Old City from extremists.

In that sense, Mr. Segev said, little seems to have changed.

“That’s what Jerusalem is all about,” he said. “That’s why it’s been a problem the last 3,000 years. And it may be a problem for the next 3,000 years.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Israel, Pride and Anxiety Greet U.S. Embassy’s Jerusalem Debut. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Watch Out, Ted Cruz. Beto is Coming

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Watch Out, Ted Cruz. Beto is Coming.

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Beto O’Rourke at Natachee’s Supper ’n Punch restaurant in Houston.CreditBryan Schutmaat for The New York Times

HOUSTON — Count me among the swelling ranks of the infatuated. I, too, have been Beto-struck.

I have seen the alternative to Ted Cruz — Lord knows we need an alternative to Ted Cruz — and he’s a peppy, rangy, toothy progressive with ratios of folksiness to urbanity and irreverence to earnestness that might well have been cooked up in some political laboratory. Could that formula enable Representative Beto O’Rourke, a Texas Democrat, to wrest Cruz’s seat in the Senate from him in November?

By now you’ve probably heard of Beto — seemingly no one calls him by his surname — and that in and of itself is a marvel. When else has a long-shot Senate candidate with no prior celebrity drawn so much coverage? He has been the subject of lengthy profiles in The Times, The Washington Post, Politico, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, which bestowed upon him the mightiest political adjective of them all: “Kennedyesque.”

He even appeared last month on Bill Maher’s HBO show, generating headlines with his response to Maher’s characterization of Cruz.

“Don’t forget,” Maher said, “he’s a giant asshole.”

“That’s true,” Beto concurred.

It was a naughty swerve from his usual niceness, and over lunch in Houston on Thursday, he told me that he regretted it.

“I think I was just moving the conversation along,” Beto said. “Anyhow, I don’t think that Ted Cruz is an asshole.”

“You don’t?” I asked, incredulous.

“I certainly don’t think that publicly,” he answered.

Cruz is a rare and precious gift. He’s so loathed that any passable Democrat with a picayune chance of toppling him was bound to draw more attention and inspire more hope than the political dynamics warranted. While President Trump’s unpopularity endangers his party’s incumbents far and wide and Texas may indeed be getting bluer, the state has been very red for very long. The last time a Democrat won statewide office was 24 years ago.

But Beto is more than passable. Many of his campaign events are mobbed. People line up for selfies and then insist on hugs.

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Beto O’Rourke at a town hall meeting at the University of Houston on Thursday.CreditBryan Schutmaat for The New York Times

He’s raising money like mad. Last week he disclosed that in the first quarter of 2018 he took in $6.7 million, bringing his total haul to $13.2 million, which handily outpaces Cruz and is more than any Texas Democrat running for the Senate ever amassed. All of that cash came from individuals. He has sworn off money from PACs.

“Even the most skeptical person has to acknowledge that there’s something going on here,” Jim Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, told me. “But is it something that can overcome the deep hole that any Democratic candidate in this state is in?”

Beto’s answer to those odds is an oddball campaign. This has freed him to be freewheeling. He has no speechwriter, because he never speaks from a fixed script. He has no pollster, because he’s not going by polls.

“No political consultant worth their salt would allow us to go to college campuses, because young people don’t vote,” he told a group of Latino leaders during a meeting on Thursday that I accompanied him to. “That’s why we don’t have a political consultant.”

His next event, in fact, was at the University of Houston.

He was driving himself from stop to stop in a rented red Dodge Caravan. There was a banana and bag of nuts beside him; his two campaign aides — the entirety of his traveling entourage — huddled with their smartphones in the back. “Their highest value in the car is cranking on stuff,” he told me. The steering and navigation could be left to him.

His Facebook followers already know this, because he does Facebook Live streams of much of his day, recounting all manner of tedium. Midday Wednesday he filled in followers on an electricity mishap during a convenience-store bathroom break. “I’m in the stall,” he recalled. “The lights are cut. Pitch black. I just freeze.”

On Thursday night, viewers beheld the action-packed minutes of him refueling the Caravan. “Our purchase came to $44.45,” he narrated. “Your contributions literally go into the gas tank.”

In late January, he did a 24-hour Facebook Live beginning with a run with several hundred supporters at dawn and continuing through a chat with all-night street cleaners. (When he had to shower or such, his wife, Amy, kept viewers engaged.)

I asked him why.

“How do I get your attention?” he answered. “You’ve seen politics before. You’ve seen the well-produced ads where I’m holding my wife’s hand and our kids are running down a hillside. You’re sick of that. How do I honor what’s going on now? Politics are changing dramatically. People are really looking for the most transparent, honest, direct way to connect with one another. And we’re going to find it.”

Beto, 45, lives in El Paso, grew up there and has spent most of his life in Texas, apart from college at Columbia University, where he majored in English. He and Amy have three children, ages 7, 9 and 11. He started a small technology company before he served on the El Paso City Council and then in Congress.

That background has somehow given him enough material that whenever a voter asks him a question — about health care or school safety or the treatment of veterans — he’s able to draw on some personal anecdote. After a town hall meeting on Thursday, two of the attendees whom I interviewed separately used the same adjective to praise him: “Relatable.”

He hits so many right notes that it’s eerie. During campaign swings last summer, when school was out, the family camped out at night in state parks. His two youngest kids learned all the words to George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning” before an event in Amarillo, which they opened with an a cappella rendition.

He’s quick to validate voters’ ill will toward federal lawmakers, and he said, during that town hall, that only 9 percent of Americans approve of Congress. “You know that communism has an approval rating of 10 percent,” he added. “Chlamydia is at 8 percent. So Congress is in the sweet spot. But watch out! The chlamydia lobby is working it hard and they are going to move up and surpass Congress soon.”

But he’s also careful to praise his colleagues in the House. “There’s so much talent in the Democratic caucus,” he told me, “from Joaquin Castro to Cheri Bustos to Joe Kennedy to Hakeem Jeffries.” In that one seemingly off-the-cuff sentence, he managed to include a fellow Texan, a storied dynasty, both genders and multiple regions and races.

He talks about fried catfish one second, James Joyce the next. (The older of his two sons is named Ulysses.) He’s fluent in classic punk rock and contemporary country. He’s fluent in Spanish, too.

He’s clear about his beliefs that health care should be guaranteed, marijuana should be legal, Trump should be impeached and the border wall is ridiculous. That puts him to the left of many Texans. But he’s just as voluble about his exhausting effort to visit every county in Texas, including the most staunchly conservative ones, and about the need for people of all political stripes to be respected.

Beto is more than the anti-Cruz. He’s a political fable, holding out the happy if far-fetched possibility that a candidate’s effervescence matters more than a state’s partisan breakdown and that gumption beats any focus group.

“People are watching,” he told his town hall audience. “If we win this race in the right way, I guarantee you, it is going to change politics in the United States going forward.”

I invite you to follow me on Twitter (@FrankBruni) and join me on Facebook.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page SR3 of the New York edition with the headline: Watch Out, Ted Cruz. Beto is Coming.. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Dozens of Russians Are Believed Killed in U.S.-Backed Syria Attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

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American special forces in Manbij, Syria, near the border with Turkey, this month. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

MOSCOW — Four Russian nationals, and perhaps dozens more, were killed in fighting between pro-government forces in eastern Syria and members of the United States-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, according to Russian and Syrian officials.

A Syrian military officer said that about 100 Syrian soldiers had been killed in the fighting on Feb. 7 and 8, but news about Russian casualties has dribbled out only slowly, through Russian news organizations and social media.

Much about the attack and the associated casualties has been obscured in the fog of war. For reasons that remain unclear, Syrian government troops and some Russian nationals appear to have attacked a coalition position, near Al Tabiyeh, Syria.

The attack occurred in the vicinity of Deir al-Zour, a strategic, oil-rich territory that is coveted by the Syrians. Most of the fatalities were attributed to an American airstrike on enemy columns that was called in by American-backed Kurdish soldiers who believed they were under attack.

At no point, an American military spokesman said, was there any chance of direct conflict between United States and Russian forces.

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“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” according to Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the American military. “Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity.”

The Kremlin — seeking to play down its involvement in the fighting in Syria and seemingly hoping to avoid escalating tensions with the United States — has sidestepped questions about the episode, even as it faces rare criticism at home over its failure to acknowledge the deaths of Russians in Syria.

It has stressed repeatedly since last Wednesday that no members of the Russian armed forces were killed, and that any Russians fighting alongside the Syrians were mercenaries.

“We only handle the data that concerns Russian forces servicemen,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said at a news briefing on Tuesday. “We don’t have data about other Russians who could be in Syria.”

The Kremlin said much the same about the nature of the forces in Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, however, claiming they were volunteers and men on vacation, only to admit later that they were regular soldiers.

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President Vladimir V. Putin has said at least three times since 2016 that combat operations in Syria were winding down, including once during a surprise visit to a Russian air base in Syria last December. Yet there are hundreds if not thousands of contract soldiers in Syria whom the Russian government has never acknowledged.

They were deployed both to help keep the official cost down and to avoid reports of casualties, especially with a March presidential election in Russia fast approaching. Even though the Kremlin enacted a law during the Ukraine crisis in 2015 to make battlefield casualties a secret, the funerals for regular soldiers killed in combat need to be more official than those for mercenaries, and are thus difficult to hide.

And some individual Russians have begun speaking out. Aleksandr Ionov, a Russian businessman working in Syria offering security and other services, said he estimated after conversations with associates in several private military organizations that more than 200 Russians might have been killed.

Mr. Ionov said not all those killed were Russian: Some of the paid fighters came from other countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. “More than 200 is the current estimate, we cannot know the exact number yet, but most of them were Russian,” he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Ionov said he was speaking out because he wanted any Russians who were killed to be officially recognized for their sacrifice.

“The truth has to be told,” he said. “If people died, then this should be recognized and respects should be paid to people who fought against terrorists.”

He called on the government to give a fuller version of events, adding, “People are outraged because they want to know the truth.”

Mr. Ionov was not the only one speaking out about Russian fatalities. Aleksandr Averin, a member of the Other Russia nationalist party, confirmed that Kirill Ananiev, a party member who left for Syria about a year ago, had been killed in the airstrike, noting that there were other “substantial losses.”

“I can confirm that Kirill died on Feb. 7 in Syria, near the Euphrates River, as a result of a strike by the American coalition,” Mr. Averin said in an interview, adding that he was aware of “substantial losses” suffered by “paramilitary structures with ties to Russia.” He refused to elaborate.

Another victim, Vladimir N. Loginov, 51, died “in an unequal fight on Feb. 7 in the area of Syria’s Deir al-Zour,” according to a statement published online by his paramilitary organization.

“He died, heroically defending our motherland in the far reaches against the invasion of maddened barbarians,” the group, the Baltic Cossack Union in Kaliningrad, said in the statement.

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Syrian pro-government fighters, who were reportedly wounded in a United States airstrike near Deir al-Zour, at a hospital in the town. CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

In another case, Lubava Kocheva, a woman from central Russia, said in a brief online chat that two of her male friends in Syria, Igor Kosoturov and Stanislav Matveev, also died on Feb. 7.

“We don’t know anything, whether they will bring them or not,” said Mrs. Kocheva, 41, referring to the men’s corpses. “This is very difficult and frightening.”

The names of most of the victims identified so far were first reported by the Conflict Intelligence Team, a group of Russian investigative bloggers. The exact circumstances of their deaths could not be established by The New York Times.

The Russian Defense Ministry, which supports the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, in the continuing civil war, said none of its servicemen had been involved in the clash and that only 25 pro-government Syrian insurgents were wounded. It took pains to distance itself from the battle.

“The reason for the incident was lack of coordination between the reconnaissance movements of the Syrian insurgents and the Russian operative command,” the ministry said in its statement on Thursday.

The number and exact nature of private Russian security firms operating in Syria is unclear, although there have been persistent reports in the Russian news media that some militiamen who fought on the side of the Russian-backed separatists in the war in eastern Ukraine later deployed to Syria.

The main Russian paramilitary contracting organization is the Wagner Group, known by the nickname of the retired Russian officer who leads it. The group has been operating in Syria in various capacities, including protecting some oil fields, according to multiple reports in the Russian news media. Its relationship with the Kremlin is murky and unconfirmed, but its leaders have reportedly received awards in the Kremlin and its mercenaries are trained at the Russian Defense Ministry’s facilities.

Grigory A. Yavlinsky, a veteran Russian opposition politician who is a candidate in next month’s presidential election, called on Tuesday for Mr. Putin to disclose the number of Russians who had died in Syria.

“I demand an explanation as to why Russian nationals take part in ground military operations in Syria, despite the statements by the president and defense minister that Russian military formations will be withdrawn from this country,” Mr. Yavlinsky said in a statement. “I also think there needs to be a public report about relations with the U.S., as there is a growing threat of an accidental or deliberate direct military clash between Russia and America.”

The official Kremlin stance is that its military deployment in Syria is now centered on two permanent bases, one for Russia’s air force and one for its navy, there by invitation from the Syrian government.

342COMMENTS

Russian political analysts said that the country’s reluctance to confirm that its citizens had died as a result of a United States-led airstrike was actually a sign that Moscow did not want to further worsen the already fractured bilateral relations with Washington.

“This is a very rare case, where the positions of Russia and the U.S. got closer,” said Aleksei V. Makarkin, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, a think tank in Moscow. “No one wants to take steps that will do irreparable damage to the already broken Russia-U.S. relations.”

Correction: February 13, 2018 
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly described an account by a Syrian military officer. He said that about 100 Syrian — not Russian — soldiers died in fighting on Feb. 7 and 8.

In Iran, Environmentalists Now Seen as Spies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

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President Hassan Rouhani of Iran arriving at a news conference, with a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last week in Tehran. Credit Abedin Taherkenareh/European Press photo Agency

TEHRAN — The increasingly bitter feud between Iran’s president and hard-line commanders and clerics exploded into the open over the weekend with the arrest of a top environmental official and the prison death of a prominent Iranian-Canadian environmental activist who was arrested last month.

The official, Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of the Department of the Environment, was arrested on Saturday, interrogated, and apparently released on Monday by intelligence agents affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. His department posted an image of him on Twitter during a meeting on Monday with the German ambassador to Iran, Michael Klor-Berchtold.

The arrest of Mr. Madani, 36, an American-educated academic on leave from London’s Imperial College, was particularly embarrassing for President Hassan Rouhani, who had recruited him as a sign the country is ready to welcome back expatriate Iranians.

It was consistent with a series of actions taken by hard-line groups in recent months to publicly humiliate and undermine Mr. Rouhani, analysts say. They are accused of instigating the protests that shook the government around the New Year in an effort to show that Mr. Rouhani’s promises of economic growth were failing. That backfired when the protests spread to 80 cities and anger quickly turned against the Islamic establishment.

The hard-liners had been incensed by Mr. Rouhani’s decision to leak a sensitive government budget document showing generous payouts to support military adventures and conservative clerical organizations while cutting subsidies for the poor and middle class.

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“I have never seen the fight between these two factions so open here in Iran, the government versus those who are nonelected,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, an analyst with close ties to the Rouhani government. “I’m afraid that if solutions are not found, we might see escalation and even clashes in the near future.”

The sparring is taking place against a backdrop of growing public dissatisfaction with the government over the mismanagement of the economy, corruption, bank failures and the powerful sense that people no longer want the government to tell them how to live — symbolized this month by numerous women publicly removing their hijabs to protest mandatory veiling.

With the arrests of Mr. Madani and several environmental activists including Kavous Seyed Emami, the Iranian-Canadian, the fight seems to have expanded into the environmental arena as the government confronts growing fears of water shortages this summer. The activists, some critical of the government for long-term mismanagement of water supplies, have been accused by the Revolutionary Guards of spying.

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Kavous Seyed Emami in a photo provided by his family. Creditvia Agence France-Press — Getty Images

Mr. Seyed Emami, one of the founders of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Iran’s most prominent nongovernmental organization focused on the environment, was quietly arrested along with six associates in January, a spokesman for the family said on Saturday.

The spokesman said that the family had been told that he killed himself in prison after having confessed to spying. The family denies the allegation of spying and doubts he committed suicide, but the prison authorities have so far refused to return Mr. Seyed Emami’s body to the family for a proper autopsy. He was to be buried on Tuesday, and it remained unclear if the family’s wish for an independent autopsy would be granted.

Also unclear is where the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comes down in the feud between the hard-liners and Mr. Rouhani. Mr. Khamenei has long sought to balance opposing factions to preserve his power, and analysts said he would be unlikely to take a strong stand on one side or the other until he felt he had no choice. On major decisions, like the nuclear agreement and seeking better relations with the international community, he has supported Mr. Rouhani, if grudgingly.

On Sunday, Mr. Rouhani struck back at his opponents, warning the Revolutionary Guards, the judiciary and the clerical councils that his government is considering organizing a referendum to break the deadlock between those who want change and those who want to hold it back.

“Anywhere we may have differences,” he said in a speech at the 39th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, “we should refer to the vote of the people and a referendum.”

While there is little chance of that plan succeeding, analysts say, suggesting a referendum could perhaps help Mr. Rouhani regain popularity among the middle classes who have become cynical over his inability to deliver on years of promises of a more open and transparent economy and greater personal freedoms.

“Mr. Rouhani insists on diverting attention away from his failing economic policies,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a hard-line political analyst. “The government is not allowed to initiate referendums on everything, only in the case of a stalemate between separate powers. These are just disputes.”

Since the New Year’s protests, the pressure on the two sides has only increased, with the economy dragging and the national currency, the rial, falling sharply in value against the dollar and the euro. The government is having trouble attracting desperately needed foreign investment, because of unilateral United States sanctions and uncertainty over the fate of the nuclear agreement.

In an apparent victory for Mr. Rouhani, the minister of defense, Amir Hatami, said in January that Ayatollah Khamenei had ordered both the regular army and the Revolutionary Guards to sell off economic assets to the private sector. But the arrests and pressures indicate there will be no smooth transition, if any, analysts said.

“This country is in deadlock. I think last month’s so-called-protests were incited and encouraged by government opponents, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps,” said Saeed Laylaz, an economist close to the government. “I think the opponents of Rouhani want to show their teeth after the president has made clear he wants to harness the power and influence of the non-elected parts of the state, including the Guards

We All Have a Stake in the Stock Market, Right? Guess Again

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

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Wall Street’s volatility is merely a spectator event for most Americans, whose wealth is not held in stocks.CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times

Take a deep breath and relax.

The riotous market swings that have whipped up frothy peaks of anxiety over the last week — bringing the major indexes down more than 10 percentfrom their peak — have virtually no impact on the income or wealth of most families. The reason: They own little or no stock.

A whopping 84 percent of all stocks owned by Americans belong to the wealthiest 10 percent of households. And that includes everyone’s stakes in pension plans, 401(k)’s and individual retirement accounts, as well as trust funds, mutual funds and college savings programs like 529 plans.

“For the vast majority of Americans, fluctuations in the stock market have relatively little effect on their wealth, or well-being, for that matter,” said Edward N. Wolff, an economist at New York University who recently published new research on the topic.

Both Republicans and Democrats have promoted the idea that a rising stock market broadly lifts Americans’ fortunes. When there was a parade of market rallies, President Trump asked, “How’s your 401(k) doing?”

There was a move toward democratizing stock ownership in the 1980s and 1990s, with the advent of individual retirement accounts, but the busts of 2001 and 2007 scared off some middle-class investors.

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Of course, any financial loss can be scary and painful. Indeed, the less you have, the more each dollar counts. And market gyrations could foreshadow deeper problems that signal the end of a nine-year boom and short-circuit the economic recovery.

But the day-to-day impact on most people’s overall wealth is minimal.

“It’s far from where you think that it would be, given the rhetoric,” said Ray Boshara, director of the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

A look at some fundamentals may provide a clearer perspective.

Stock ownership is the exception.

Roughly half of all households don’t have a cent invested in stocks, whether through a 401(k) account or shares in General Electric. That leaves half the population with some exposure to financial market whims, but as Mr. Boshara said, “some exposure can be 100 bucks.”

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Who’s in the Market

Households with each type

of stock investment

Households’ stock

investment, by value

Stock as a share of

households’ total assets

50

%

50

%

50

%

Pensions

40

40

40

$5,000

or more

$10,000

or more

30

30

30

$25,000

or more

20

20

20

Direct holdings

Mutual funds

10

10

10

Trust funds

’89

’98

’07

’16

’89

’98

’07

’16

’89

’98

’07

’16

“If you look at where the money is really held, it’s among the top 10 percent,” he said. “And if you break it down by age, race and education and parental education, you’ll see the disparities are even larger.” Parents who lack a four-year degree and, later on, their children are much less likely to have a direct stake in the stock market than college graduates; blacks and Hispanics are much less likely than whites.

“It’s too bad such a small percentage of the population has any real or meaningful ownership stake in equities, given their historic and current growth,” Mr. Boshara said.

Most households had less than $5,000 in total holdings in 2016, the most recent year analyzed by Mr. Wolff. Despite the slow recovery in housing prices, the wealth of middle-class Americans is still concentrated in their homes, which remain their single most valuable asset.

For 9 out of 10 households, even a shift in value of 10 percent — enough to qualify as a “market correction” — would “at most, have a 1 or 2 percent impact on their wealth holdings,” Mr. Wolff said.

If anything, foreign multinational and other investors would feel more of a pinch, since they own 35 percent of all United States corporate stock, up from 10 percent in 1982. That share of the pie exceeds the single slice owned by taxable American shareholders, defined benefit plans, defined contribution plans, or nonprofit institutions, said Steven M. Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

Don’t confuse the Dow with the economy.

The stock market and the underlying economy are distinct. The two interact, but they do not proceed in lock step or even respond to each other in predictable ways. Certainly, market instability can undermine both consumer and business confidence and restrain spending and investment. And market bubbles, swelled by overextended borrowing, can explode, wreaking losses and stalling growth.

Still, valuations of assets and the country’s economic health — as determined by productivity, employment, investment, spending, housing values, production capacity, growth and more — are two different kettles.

The Stock Market Isn’t the Economy. Here’s How They Can Shape Each Other

Stock markets have recently fallen over fears that economic growth is too strong. Here’s why, and one way how steep, sustained sell-offs could end up hurting the economy.

“If all that happens is the stock market decreases or increases in value, but no real fundamentals change,” C. Eugene Steuerle, an economist at the Urban Institute who served in the Reagan administration, said, “then there are actually a lot of winners, not just losers.”

“Older people can buy less stock,” because the returns from their investment are smaller, Mr. Steuerle said, “but young people can buy more on the cheap,” which sets them up for bigger gains down the road.

Attention, discount shoppers,” Michelle Singletary, a personal financial columnist for The Washington Post, advised on Thursday. “The recent stock market dive is like a holiday weekend sale.”

The economy still seems solid.

When it come to evaluating the economy’s fundamentals, assessments come in a Revlon rack of shades. Economists warn that mounting debt, as a result of the costly $1.5 trillion tax package, threatens economic stability over the longer run, as private investment is crowded out and interest payments balloon. Productivity growth is anemic and labor participation rates are low by historical standards.

Still, the signs of strength — at least for the next couple of years — are impressive.

Unemployment is near record lows, total output is rising at a faster rate, bond yields are up, oil prices have increased, and consumer and business confidence remain high. Every major economy around the world is growing in concert, simultaneously propelling and reinforcing a positive cycle.

After all, one of those indicators — a January jobs report that showed healthy payroll expansion and a jump in yearly wage growth — is what help set off the stock market tumult last Friday.

Israel’s secret airstrike campaign in Sinai to help Egypt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL AND THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Israel carrying out secret airstrike campaign in Sinai to help Egypt — report

Unmarked IAF drones, fighter jets, and gunships are conducting attacks against jihadist insurgents at the behest of Sissi, The New York Times reports

A picture taken from the Rafah border of the southern Gaza Strip with Egypt shows smoke billowing in Egypt's North Sinai on July 8, 2017. (AFP/Said Khatib)

A picture taken from the Rafah border of the southern Gaza Strip with Egypt shows smoke billowing in Egypt’s North Sinai on July 8, 2017. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Israeli drones, fighter jets, and helicopter gunships have carried out more than 100 airstrikes against Islamist terrorists in the Sinai, in a bid to help Egypt deal with the jihadist insurgency in the peninsula, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Israel was forced to take action, with the blessing of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as Egypt struggled to deal with the violent uprising that has killed hundreds of Egyptian security forces and civilians, the report said.

While security coordination between Jerusalem and Cairo is known to be close, the ties are still unpopular in Egypt, despite nearly three decades of peace. In order to keep the cooperation quiet, the Israeli aircraft are often unmarked and sometimes use indirect routes in a bid to cover up the origin of the strikes, the report said.

The report said Sissi had kept the Israeli strikes secret, only letting a small group of military and intelligence officials in on the cooperation, and has kept northern Sinai a closed military area, barring reporters from the region.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in New York on September 19, 2017 (Avi Ohayun)

Israeli and Egyptian officials refused to confirm or comment on the report, which the paper said was based on interviews with seven current or former British and American officials involved in Middle East policy, all speaking on condition of anonymity.

The report quoted American officials as saying that Israel’s air campaign has played a decisive role in enabling the Egyptian armed forces to gain an upper hand against the jihadists.

According to the US sources, Israel began its airstrikes following the capture of a north Sinai town by the Islamists and the downing of a Russian charter jet over Sinai in October 2014 that killed 224 people. They said Israel has had a string of successes in killing the terrorist leaders.

In the wake of the Israeli strikes, the Islamists slowed their advance and switched their attention to softer targets like attacking mosques and churches, the report said.

However, Israel has complained to the US that Egypt is not upholding its end of the agreement, and that Cairo was supposed to follow up on the airstrikes by sending ground forces into the region.

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Lasers Reveal a Maya Civilization So Dense It Blew Experts’ Minds

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

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Tikal, home to temples and palaces, is one of the best known Maya sites in northern Guatemala.CreditJustin Lane for The New York Times

They were hidden there, all this time, under the cover of tree canopies in the jungles of northern Guatemala: tens of thousands of structures built by the Maya over a millennium ago.

Not far from the sites tourists already know, like the towering temples of the ancient city of Tikal, laser technology has uncovered about 60,000 homes, palaces, tombs and even highways in the humid lowlands.

The findings suggested an ancient society of such density and interconnectedness that even the most experienced archaeologists were surprised.

“Everywhere that we looked, there was more settlement than we expected,” said Thomas Garrison, a National Geographic explorer and an archaeologist at Ithaca University. “We knew there was going to be more, but the scale of it really blew our minds.”

Researchers found the structures by shooting lasers down from planes to pierce the thick foliage and paint a 3-D picture of the ground below. The technology is called Light Detection and Ranging, or lidar.

200 MILES

Gulf of

Mexico

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ReserveGuatemala

Beli

Caribbean

Sea

MEXICO

BELIZE

GUATEMALA

HONDURAS

EL SALVADOR

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Ocean

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The method has been used elsewhere, including around the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. But this lidar project is the largest ever undertaken. More than 800 square miles of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala’s Petén region have been mapped, according to an exclusive report by National Geographic, which is airing a Feb. 6 television special about the project.

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“This world, which was lost to this jungle, is all of a sudden revealed in the data,” said Albert Yu-Min Lin, an engineer and National Geographic explorer who worked on the television special. “And what you thought was this massively understood, studied civilization is all of a sudden brand new again.”

The lasers are only the first step, he added, noting that he and archaeologists still had to trek through jungles to verify the data while contending with thick undergrowth, poisonous snakes, swarms of killer bees and the odd scorpion.

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Lidar data highlighted about 60,000 structures that had been hidden in the jungle for hundreds of years.CreditWild Blue Media/National Geographic

The project was started by Pacunam, a Guatemalan nonprofit organization, and carried out with help from the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, which is based at the University of Houston. The lidar technology essentially allows researchers to spot bumps in the landscape. Most of the ruins look like rocky mounds — even in person, and to the naked eye — but experts can often identify a collapsed quarry, palace or street.

The Maya culture was known for its sophisticated approach to agriculture, arts and astronomy. The peak era for the civilization, which some archaeologists refer to as the Classic Period, is generally considered to have lasted from around A.D. 250 to 900.

The total population at that time was once estimated to be a few million, said Diane Davies, an archaeologist and Maya specialist based in the United Kingdom. But in light of the new lidar data, she said it could now be closer to 10 million.

Dr. Davies was not involved in the lidar project but considered it “really big, sensational news.” She said the data should encourage people not only to re-evaluate Maya civilization, but also to learn from it.

“To have such a large number of people living at such a high level for such a long period of time, it really proves the fact that these people were highly developed, and also quite environmentally conscientious,” she said.

Among the structures uncovered were roads, built wide and raised high above the wetlands to connect fields to farmers and markets to metropolises. There were also small dwellings, quarries and intricate irrigation systems. “We’re seeing the spaces in between, and that’s where really interesting stuff was happening,” Dr. Garrison said.

He added that in addition to changing people’s perception of the Maya culture, lidar represented “a sea change” in the field of archaeology.

“I don’t think you see a lot of discoveries happening across the sciences right now that sort of turn a discipline on its head,” he said. “It’s exciting to know that it can still happen.”

How the Vatican changed its position to China

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘CHINA SPEAKERS BUREAU’ AND THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

How the Vatican changed its position to China – Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson

The Roman Catholic Church at the Vatican has shocked its communities in China by asking two “underground” bishops by complying to the country’s rulers. Journalist Ian Johnson, author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, tries to make sense out of the move for the New York Times.

Ian Johnson:

In a statement released on Monday, the former bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, confirmed the broad outlines of the Vatican’s recent efforts, writing that he traveled to Rome this month to personally deliver to the pope a letter from an underground bishop who had refused to resign.

The letter came from Bishop Zhuang Jianjian of the southern Chinese city of Shantou, an 88-year-old who had been secretly ordained in 2006 with Vatican approval.

In December, Bishop Zhuang was escorted by government officials to Beijing, where he was taken to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse to meet a papal delegation believed to have been headed by Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, who leads the Vatican’s China negotiating team…

In his statement on Monday, Cardinal Zen said that when he delivered Bishop Zhuang’s letter to the pope, the pontiff expressed sympathy for the underground bishops, telling the cardinal that his negotiators should not “create another Mindszenty case,” a reference to a pro-democracy bishop in Hungary who was forced out of his country in 1956 and replaced with a person acceptable to the government.

Cardinal Zen wrote that he had been heartened by the words. “I was there in the presence of the Holy Father representing my suffering brothers in China,” he said. “His words should be rightly understood as of consolation and encouragement more for them than for me.”

The Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, the editor of Asianews.it, said the developments showed that Vatican negotiators were prepared to give the Chinese government “carte blanche, and accept all requests and pose no opposition on questions that affect the church in China.”

But Father Cervellera said the pope’s reported comments to Cardinal Zen may have signaled that he was not entirely in agreement with his negotiators.

People following the issue said that the highly unusual series of events showed how badly the Vatican wanted a deal.

“The fact that both sides can carry on the negotiation till now shows that the Vatican must consider this a rare opportunity,” said Wang Meixiu, a researcher on Chinese Catholicism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

Dr. Chen (Dr. Chen Tsung-ming, research director at the Ferdinand Verbiest Institute) in Belgium said that one reason for the Vatican’s eagerness was a sense that the faith had been growing relatively slowly compared with other religions in China. While the number of Protestants has grown from one million in 1949 to at least 50 million today, the number of Catholics has largely tracked population growth, increasing from three million in that period to at most 12 million today, in part because of the schism in the Chinese Catholic Church.

The pope’s background as a priest in the Society of Jesus may also play a role, Dr. Chen said. Jesuits arrived in China more than 400 years ago, establishing a permanent presence for the church on the mainland after several failed efforts in earlier centuries. But they did so by being extremely flexible and conforming to local norms — a point that may be informing the pope’s negotiating approach.

“He has a sense of mission,” Dr. Chen said. “There’s a historic responsibility.”

More details in the New York Times.

Ian Johnson is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

Are you looking for more experts on cultural change at the China Speakers Bureau. Do check out this list.

Russia And Putin’s Fixed Elections

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

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Protesters on Sunday in Moscow, where rallies called by the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny were banned. “You have your own life at stake,” Mr. Navalny said in a pre-recorded message.CreditPavel Golovkin/Associated Press

MOSCOW — Protesters across Russia braved icy temperatures on Sunday to demonstrate against the lack of choice in the March election that is virtually certain to see President Vladimir V. Putin chosen for a fourth term.

“What we are being offered right now are not elections, and we must not participate in them,” Yevgeny Roizman, the mayor of the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg and a rare elected official from an opposition party, told a crowd of hundreds that had gathered in protest.

The protests in scores of cities — from Vladivostok in the east to Kaliningrad in the west — were called by Aleksei A. Navalny, the charismatic, anticorruption opposition leader, after he was barred from running for the presidency because of legal problems that he said had been manufactured to prevent his candidacy.

“You have your own life at stake,” Mr. Navalny said in a recorded messageurging protesters in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where the rallies were banned, to turn out. “Every additional year of Putin staying in power is one more year of decay.”

Attacking the government as thieves, he said: “How many more years will you keep getting a lower salary than you are due? For how many more years will your business receive less revenue than it is due?”

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Mr. Navalny was detained before he reached the several thousand demonstrators gathered in Pushkin Square in central Moscow and other main avenues closer to the Kremlin. Video footage showed police officers, who over all were far more restrained than during previous demonstrations, tackling him and dragging him onto a bus.

Задержание Навального! (Тверская) Video by Команда Навального

A police statement, which put attendance at 1,000 people, said he would be charged with organizing an illegal gathering.

In June, Mr. Navalny was arrested as he emerged from his apartment to attend an unauthorized anticorruption protest, and he served 25 days in jail. This time, he first stayed in an undisclosed location, taunting the authorities by saying he would announce his whereabouts, and then giving the address where Mr. Putin is registered to vote.

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Mr. Navalny was detained by police officers in Moscow on Sunday. CreditEvgeny Feldman/Associated Press

After he was detained on Sunday, Mr. Navalny posted a message on Twitterurging protesters to carry on without him.

The boisterous crowd in Pushkin Square chanted slogans including, “These are not elections!” and “Down with the czar!” At one point, the protesters urged more people to join them, chanting, “There is still time to come; the weather is not bad.”

Mr. Navalny organized anticorruption protests across Russia in March and June, mobilizing middle-class youths in particular, and his campaign has vowed to organize repeated protests before the March 18 election to underscore that the vote is a fraud, with the Kremlin manipulating the entire process.

The numbers on Sunday were smaller than previous protests, not least because an election boycott is a less-galvanizing issue than corruption.

“People did not come out for an unsanctioned event,” Marat Guelman, a leading cultural figure, wrote on Facebook. “It’s a defeat. Moscow does not want tensions.”

The crowd again skewed young, however, and even those who despaired of change thought showing up mattered.

“The boycott won’t likely change anything, but there are two different factors that work against Putin,” said Sergei Zhilkin, 32, a mathematician and IT engineer. “First, he gets older and is increasingly detached from what modern life is like; second, the new generation becomes more and more active in the society.”

Mr. Putin, 65, has refused to even say Mr. Navalny’s name, warning that protest movements would only bring chaos to Russia.

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Demonstrators also gathered in St. Petersburg on Sunday. Mr. Navalny urged protesters there and in Moscow to turn out, as rallies in those cities were banned. CreditAnton Vaganov/Reuters

The demonstrations were generally peaceful, with some 240 protesters detained nationwide, according to OVD-Info, an independent organization that tracks arrests. In the far eastern part of the country and in Siberia, crowds gathered despite frigid temperatures, with Yakutsk approaching minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 45 degrees Celsius).

Numerous provincial cities granted permits, although the protests were often shunted to remote locations.

Kazan was typical. The city offered organizers the parking lot of a garbage processing plant in an industrial district 30 miles north of the city, then erected a 10-foot wall of snow with bulldozers so that no passing cars could see the protesters.

Not to be deterred, a number of the roughly 600 demonstrators clambered atop the barricade to wave their protest signs despite the biting wind.

“I’m 23, and Putin’s been in power 18 years, practically my whole life,” said Grigory, an IT specialist who did not want to give his surname out of concern about repercussions. He was not there so much to support Navalny, he said, but for freedom of choice.

“I pay taxes, and my money goes toward corruption — not toward new roads or my relatives’ welfare, but for expensive cars for officials,” he added.

Another man, who identified himself only as Khaliulla, 79, said he had spent his whole life sacrificing in order to build socialism and now he could barely survive on his pension, forced to chose between rent and medication. “I thought my retirement would be decent,” he said.

He also objected to the forced location of the gathering at a garbage plant. “What are we: trash or something?” he said.

Photo

Security forces gathered in Moscow on Sunday ahead of a demonstration there.CreditAlexander Nemenov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia’s two largest cities, law enforcement officials had warned that they would crack down on illegal gatherings. About 2,000 people demonstrated in St. Petersburg, according to the local news website Fontanka.ru.

State television broadcasts largely ignored the protests. Pictures posted on Mr. Navalny’s website showed the police taking a saw to the door of his headquarters in order to interrupt a live webcast describing events around the country. The police said that they were responding to reports of a bomb in the headquarters, Mr. Navalny said. But the webcasts continued all day anyway from an undisclosed location.

Mr. Navalny’s call for a boycott puts him on one side of a dispute among the opposition about whether exercising the right to vote, however futile, might be preferable.

“Russia has matured to the stage for elections to take place not as a production with Putin seeking pseudo-opponents and everyone goes out and performs,” Vladimir Milov, an opposition figure supporting the boycott, said during a debate on the Echo of Moscow radio station.

Maksim Kats, another opposition politician from one of Moscow’s district councils, countered that voting was crucial, even if the outcome was precooked.

“I think that the most appropriate means is to vote for the candidate that suits you,” he said. “But even if not, then at least spoil the ballot. And vote against Putin.”

Even among the protesters, there was some support for this position, with one man yelling, “Don’t support the boycott! You will be helping Putin if you do!”

Some political analysts also suggested that the boycott was a poor tactic. The absence of Mr. Navalny’s supporters at the polls would most likely not be enough to make a significant difference in the turnout, which is already expected to be lower than usual. The lack of intrigue in the race is expected to hobble the effort to muster a record turnout for Mr. Putin.

He has ruled Russia since 2000, governing as president for all but a four-year stretch, when term limits forced him to serve one term as prime minister. A fourth presidential term — lasting for six years until 2024 — would make him the longest-serving leader since Stalin.

Iran’s Supreme Murderer Ali Khamenei Blames Iran’s Enemy’s For Protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

LONDON — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, blamed “enemies” of Iran on Tuesday for protests that have left more than 20 people dead, in his first comments since the unrest started last week.

“In recent events, enemies of Iran have allied & used the various means they possess, including money, weapons, politics & intelligence services, to trouble the Islamic Republic,” said a post in English on Ayatollah Khamenei’s Twitter account. “The enemy is always looking for an opportunity & any crevice to infiltrate & strike the Iranian nation.”

As of Tuesday morning, the death toll from the protests across the country and the ensuing crackdown by the government and security services was at least 21. About 450 people had been taken into custody in the capital, Tehran, alone, according to the semiofficial news agency ILNA, and arrests have also been reported elsewhere.

Ayatollah Khamenei, who has been a target of the protesters, did not specify which individuals or countries he was referring to, saying he would “speak to the dear people when the time is right.”

In his stream of posts on Twitter, he did, however, implicitly compare the current demonstrations to Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, when the United States, its European allies and the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates backed the Baath Party government of Saddam Hussein against Tehran.

 

“During Saddam’s imposed war on #Iran, If the Ba’thi enemies had entered Iran, they would show no mercy towards anything or anyone,” Ayatollah Khamenei wrote in another tweet. “Iran’s situation would be worse off than today’s #Libya or #Syria.”

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf monarchies are all backing the rebels fighting the Iranian-backed government in Syria.

In Libya, NATO led a bombing campaign that helped remove Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, and both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have continued to back allied groups inside Libya in the continuing civil strife there.

“The Iranian nation will forever owe the dear martyrs, who left behind their homes and families, to stand against the wicked enemies backed by westerners, easterners, as well as reactionaries of the region,” Ayatollah Khamenei wrote, apparently in another reference to the Iran-Iraq war.

His remarks came a day after President Trump criticized Iran, saying the country’s leaders had repressed their people for years. Mr. Trump again addressed the situation there on Tuesday, in another Twitter post that appeared shortly after the supreme leader’s, in which he expressed solidarity with the Iranian people, even though he has sought to prevent them from entering the United States.

That drew an angry response from Iran, with Bahram Qasemi, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, describing Mr. Trump’s comments as insulting, useless and counterproductive, the state news media reported.

“It is better for him to try to address the internal issues, like the murder of scores killed on a daily basis in the United States during armed clashes and shootings, as well as millions of the homeless and hungry people in the country,” Mr. Qasemi said, according to the state-run news agency IRNA.

The protests are the largest in Iran since 2009, during the so-called Green Movement, which took place after the election of the hard-line leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and transitioned into a wider protest against the country’s leadership.

The latest demonstrations, which largely seemed to come out of nowhere and have surprised the authorities with their size and intensity, appear to be rooted in anger toward President Hassan Rouhani, who is regarded as a moderate, and his inability to bring change to an economy that has long suffered under the weight of sanctions.

As the protests have continued, however, they have taken on a political bent directed at the establishment, with demonstrators calling for the death of Mr. Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei.

Mr. Rouhani has tried to acknowledge the protesters’ complaints, asking them to avoid violence while saying they had a right to be heard, but others in the government have called for a firmer response.

Brig. Gen Esmaeil Kowsari, deputy chief of the main Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base in Tehran, told the semiofficial news agency ISNA: “If this situation continues, the officials will definitely make some decisions, and at that point this business will be finished.”

Iran is battling with the Saudi-led Persian Gulf states for dominance across several unstable countries around the region.

In addition to providing military support for Damascus against Syrian rebels who receive backing from Gulf states, Tehran is providing aid to Houthis in Yemen who are fighting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

21COMMENTS

Iran has provided support for protesters and militants opposing the Saudi-backed monarchy in Bahrain, and Iran-assisted factions dominate the politics of Lebanon and Iraq against opponents Saudi Arabia backs.

In most cases, the contest for power plays out through sectarian rivalries. Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchs are backing fellow Sunni Muslims in each arena, and the Shiite government of Iran is backing Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain, as well as allied heterodox Muslim sects like the Alawites in Syria or the Houthis in Yemen.