Iraqi prime minister’s main backers agree to oust him

FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi gives a televised speech in Baghdad,Iraq October 9, 2019. Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERS

Iraqi prime minister’s main backers agree to oust him
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s two main backers have agreed to work to remove him from office as protests against his government gained momentum in Baghdad and much of the Shi’ite south only to be met with violence.

Populist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who leads parliament’s largest bloc, had asked Abdul Mahdi to call an early election. When the premier refused, he called on his main political rival Hadi al-Amiri to help oust him.

Amiri – who leads a parliamentary alliance of Iran-backed Shi’ite militia that holds the second-largest amount of seats in parliament behind Sadr’s alliance – issued a statement late on Tuesday agreeing to help oust the prime minister.

“We will work together to secure the interests of the Iraqi people and save the nation in accordance with the public good,” Amiri said in a statement.

Abdul Mahdi took office just a year ago after weeks of political deadlock in which Sadr and Amiri both failed to secure enough votes to form a government. They appointed Abdul Mahdi as a compromise candidate to lead a fragile coalition government.

Mass protests driven by discontent over economic hardship and corruption have broken nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq. At least 250 people have been killed since the unrest started on Oct. 1.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Michael Perry)

In first vote since Turkey’s crisis, Erdogan could lose capital city

A stallholder reads a newspaper as he waits for customers at a bazaar in Ankara, Turkey, March 26, 2019. Picture taken March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) – Ismail Akin has voted for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s party for almost 20 years, but the father of three said that will change on Sunday because the plunging economy has forced him to shut his shop and take on debt.

In a market in the Turkish capital last week, Akin clutched his jacket and said “even this is mortgaged” after the economy tipped into recession following last year’s currency crisis.

“We voted for this man (Erdogan) for 20 years. Enough. Let’s hit him with the back of our hand so he sees what this nation is made of,” Akin said.

He said he would vote for the main opposition candidate in Sunday’s local elections.

Polls suggest Erdogan could be defeated in Ankara, the city from which he has ruled Turkey with an increasingly iron grip since 2003. His AK Party (AKP) could hang on to power in a tight race in Istanbul, where he was once mayor, but a defeat in Ankara would be a blow.

“The psychological factor of losing the capital, losing one of the big cities in Turkey, could be perceived by voters as the beginning of the decline,” said political analyst Murat Yetkin.

The nationwide local elections are the first since last year’s currency meltdown, and come as authorities fight a fresh wave of selling in the lira.

The currency has bounced back this week, in part because Turkey directed its banks to withhold lira liquidity in London, a key overseas market, until after Sunday’s election – blocking foreign investors from betting against the currency.

The stop-gap measure may save Erdogan the embarrassment of a currency meltdown on the eve of voting but economists say that longer-lasting reforms are needed to return to the strong growth which was a hallmark of the AKP’s early years in power.

AKP officials say they are anxious about Sunday’s vote. In recent weeks Erdogan has held up to five rallies per day and described the elections as a “matter of survival”.

Interviews in Ankara with more than 50 voters two weeks ahead of the vote suggested several long-time AKP supporters were shifting their views on the party and looking to punish Erdogan for the turmoil caused by the ailing economy.

“There is no production, nothing. They brought in the food stands, but will he (Erdogan) fix the economy with food stands?” said Orhan Akkaya, a local business manager who said he would no longer back AKP.

“They finished the country.”

‘VERY SERIOUS PROBLEMS’

Ahead of the elections, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) formed an electoral alliance with the IYI (Good) Party to rival that of Erdogan’s AKP and the nationalist MHP.

Mansur Yavas, the opposition candidate, appears to hold a 2 percentage point lead over his AKP rival Mehmet Ozhaseki, according to polling company Gezici. However, a poll conducted by the AKP showed Ozhaseki had closed the gap and gained a 1.5 point advantage, a party source said.

Yavas was also the CHP’s candidate in 2014, but lost in a vote marred by claims of voter fraud. Ozhaseki, a former three-term mayor from central Anatolia, was a minister until he was removed from the post after last year’s presidential and general elections cemented Erdogan’s grip on power.

Speaking to Reuters on his campaign trail, Yavas said he believed he would win in Ankara because his rival had overlooked the economic struggles of the people.

“They don’t see the economic hardships in Ankara,” he said. “They don’t come here and talk with shop owners.”

While Erdogan, championed by more pious Turks, has become modern Turkey’s most popular leader, he is also the most divisive. Secular Turks say his policies quash dissent and infringe on private lives and personal rights.

But it was his unorthodox economic policies, including a buildup in foreign debt, that helped spark last year’s crisis that wiped some 30 percent off the value of the lira. The contraction in the fourth quarter was the economy’s worst in nearly a decade.

“What we expected didn’t happen in the economy, that is a reality,” an AKP official told Reuters. “While the economy was a gain before, it’s now our weak point.”

“If there is a big loss (in Ankara)…we may enter a period where there will be very serious problems for the AK Party.”

People shop in a second-hand bazaar in Ankara, Turkey, March 27, 2019. Picture taken March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

People shop in a second-hand bazaar in Ankara, Turkey, March 27, 2019. Picture taken March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

‘FED UP’

Murat Gezici, chairman of pollster Gezici, said three of every four undecided voters have backed the MHP or AKP in past general or local elections.

The fraying economy had left many of them unsure, Gezici said citing his company’s March 16-17 poll, and added that rather than the AKP’s past successes, voters were more focused on candidates’ future promises.

“Maybe I won’t even vote, that’s how fed up I am,” said Huseyin Kilic, another longtime but disenchanted AKP voter.

Sacked from his factory job and waving in the air coins that he said were his last, Kilic, standing in a street market in the central Ankara district of Ulus, said he had not yet settled on a favored candidate.

Yet few are writing off Erdogan before votes are counted.

In nearly two decades he and his AKP have not lost a local election in Ankara or Istanbul. The party is leading polls in other big cities like Adana and Konya.

Shopping for vegetables in central Ankara, Neriman said she remained committed to the AK Party, dismissing economic woes.

“They (the AKP) gave us everything, financially and emotionally. There are no economic troubles. Are there?” she said. “I am planning on voting for the AK Party because for years we’ve been so much better off.”

($1 = 5.5652 liras)

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Mert Ozkan; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Anna Willard)

Iranian protesters attack police stations, raise stakes in unrest

Opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hold a protest outside the Iranian embassy in west London, Britain December 31, 2017.

By Michael Georgy

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian protesters attacked police stations late into the night on Monday, news agency and social media reports said, as security forces struggled to contain the boldest challenge to the clerical leadership since unrest in 2009.

Videos on social media showed an intense clash in the central town of Qahderijan between security forces and protesters who were trying to occupy a police station, which was partially set ablaze. There were unconfirmed reports of several casualties among demonstrators.

In the western city of Kermanshah, protesters set fire to a traffic police post, but no one was hurt in the incident, Mehr news agency said.

Demonstrations continued for a fifth day. Some 13 people were reported killed on Sunday in the worst wave of unrest since crowds took to the streets in 2009 to condemn the re-election of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The protests have put pressure on the clerical leaders in power since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. President Hassan Rouhani made a televised call for calm on Sunday, saying Iranians had the right to criticize but must not cause unrest.

In the central city of Najafabad, a demonstrator opened fire on police with a hunting rifle, killing one and wounding three others, state television said.

Earlier, state TV said armed demonstrators on Sunday had tried to seize police and military bases but were stopped by “strong resistance from security forces.” It gave no further details and there was no independent confirmation.

State TV had reported that 10 people were killed in protests on Sunday. On Monday, that death toll rose when the deputy governor of the western Hamadan Province, Saeed Shahrokhi, told ISNA news agency that another three protesters were killed on Sunday in the city of Tuyserkan.

“NO TOLERANCE”

Hundreds have been arrested, according to officials and social media. Online video showed police in the capital Tehran firing water cannon to disperse demonstrators, in footage said to have been filmed on Sunday.

Protests against economic hardships and alleged corruption erupted in Iran’s second city of Mashhad on Thursday and escalated across the country into calls for the religious establishment to step down.

Some of the anger was directed at Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, breaking a taboo surrounding the man who has been supreme leader of Iran since 1989.

Video posted on social media showed crowds of people walking through the streets, some chanting “Death to the dictator!” Reuters was not immediately able to verify the footage. The Fars news agency reported “scattered groups” of protesters in Tehran on Monday and said a ringleader had been arrested.

“The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public property, violate public order and create unrest in society,” Rouhani said in his address on Sunday.

Unsigned statements on social media urged Iranians to continue to demonstrate in 50 towns and cities.

The government said it was temporarily restricting access to the Telegram messaging app and Instagram. There were reports that internet mobile access was blocked in some areas.

TRUMP, NETANYAHU VOICE SUPPORT

Iran is a major OPEC oil producer and regional power deeply involved in Syria and Iraq as part of a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia. Many Iranians resent those foreign interventions, and want their leaders to create jobs at home, where youth unemployment reached 28.8 percent last year.

Among reported fatalities, two people were shot dead in the southwestern town of Izeh on Sunday and several others were injured, ILNA news agency quoted a member of parliament as saying.

“I do not know whether yesterday’s shooting was done by rally participants or the police and this issue is being investigated,” Hedayatollah Khademi was quoted as saying.

Regional governor Mostafa Samali told Fars that only one person was killed in an incident unrelated to the protests, and the suspected shooter had been arrested.

Almost nine years since the “Green movement” reformist protests were crushed by the state, Iran’s adversaries voiced their support for the resurgence of anti-government sentiment.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the “brave Iranians” taking to streets to protest a regime that “wastes tens of billions of dollars spreading hate”.

“I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom,” he said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel urged “all sides (to) refrain from violent actions”.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Robin Pomeroy and David Gregorio)