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Polls close in Iranian parliamentary election

Tehran, Iran – Polls closed in Iran’s 11th parliamentary election, seen as a test for the popularity of President Hassan Rouhani’s reformist-moderate camp as hardliners were expected to make gains. Elections for Iran’s 290-member parliament were set amid escalating political tensions, economic struggles, and concerns about low participation. The spectre of the coronavirus infection that has killed at least four people in…

Polls close in Iranian parliamentary election

Tehran, Iran – Polls closed in Iran’s 11th parliamentary election, seen as a test for the popularity of President Hassan Rouhani’s reformist-moderate camp as hardliners were expected to make gains.
Elections for Iran’s 290-member parliament were set amid escalating political tensions, economic struggles, and concerns about low participation. The spectre of the coronavirus infection that has killed at least four people in the country also added another layer of uncertainty to the electoral process.
The vote also took place as the world’s top anti-terrorism monitoring group, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), voted to keep Iran on its blacklist for failing to tackle “terrorism” financing. 
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Voters on Friday also chose replacements for seven deceased members of the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body responsible for appointing the supreme leader. 
As of 3pm local time (11:30 GMT), 11 million of nearly 58 million people eligible to vote had taken part in the election, according to the Ministry of Interior, which did not provide further updates.
The vote took place on preselected lists of candidates that represent more than 250 registered parties.
A total of 55,000 polling stations were opened at mosques and schools throughout the country. More than 7,000 candidates, including at least 666 women, were competing. 

Iran: Thousands of candidates disqualified ahead of elections

Long queues could be seen at the main polling station set up at Masjid al-Nabi, the main mosque in the middle-class Narmak neighbourhood where former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lives.
Throughout the capital Tehran, other hubs for the conservative camp, also known as the principlists, were teaming with voters for several hours of the day.
Meanwhile, stations in other areas including parts of northern Tehran, a support base for the reformists, remained empty throughout most of the day.
Polls were expected to close at 6pm (14:30 GMT) but were extended several times. During the previous parliamentary elections in 2016, voting was extended because of the high turnout.
A spokesman for the Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, said in a statement that 200,000 supervisors from the council oversaw the polls throughout the country.
On the eve of the election, the United States imposed sanctions on five senior Iranian officials for allegedly preventing fair-and-free elections in Iran, the US Department of the Treasury said on Thursday. The blacklisted officials included Secretary of Iran’s Guardian Council Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati and its spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei.

Polls were expected to close at 6pm (14:30 GMT), but were extended several times [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

‘National duty’ 
During the day, several voters told Al Jazeera they considered participation in the vote a national duty as the vote was the first parliamentary election since the US withdrew from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018, and reimposed sanctions against Tehran, including on its oil and banking sectors. 
The financial measures put Iran’s economy into a tailspin with inflation reaching 33.5 percent.
In addition to the deteriorating economy, the vote came after a series of national crises including a deadly crackdown by security forces on tens of thousands of people protesting against fuel price rises in November and the military’s shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner on January 8 that killed all 176 people on board, mostly Iranians.

Ahmad Torkashavan, 55, a former Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldier who participated in the Iran-Iraq war at the age of 14 and then joined the Revolutionary Guard afterwards, said: “I feel it is a national duty to [vote], despite the difficult economic conditions that have discouraged some people.”
Tahereh Dervishi, 68, agreed: “Voting is a national and religious duty.
“I voted for my country and our martyrs including Qassem Soleimani. We need a stronger parliament to fight our enemies, the US and Israel,” she added.
The elections come after the Iranian General Soleimani, former leader of the Revolutionary Guard, was assassinated in a US drone strike near Baghdad’s airport on January 3.
“This vote is very important for our nation and its national interests against our enemies in the EU – France, the UK and Germany – as well as the United States,” Ali Javanrodi, a 35-year-old civil servant, told Al Jazeera. 
“I am voting for candidates who will resist our enemies and unite our nation,” he said.
Conservative parliament
The reformist and moderate bloc won a parliamentary majority in 2016 on the back of a landmark deal negotiated between Tehran and world powers that offered the country relief from global sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Iran elections: Voter apathy

But the political current has since shifted, a situation further compounded by mass disqualifications of reformist candidates by the Guardian Council ahead of the election.
The disqualification was sharply criticised by President Hassan Rouhani and supporters of the reformist camp, many of whom said they would boycott the vote. 
According to Abas Aslani, a visiting scholar at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies, if voter turnout proves to be lower than in previous elections, it would mean a stronger conservative presence in parliament and on Rouhani in the coming year ahead of the presidential vote. 
The election was seen by many observers as competition between conservatives supporting Tehran’s former mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who backed the 2015 nuclear deal, and ultra-conservatives who rejected it.
According to Zohre Nosrat Kharazmi, an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of Tehran, “If the principlists gain a majority in parliament it means that Iran’s foreign policy will involve more escalation with the US.
“The principalists would not support any more negotiations and renegotiations with the West,” she added.
Political commentator Mohammed Hashemi agreed. “It is safe to say that Iran’s 11th parliament will be under the control of conservatives, which will likely mean tougher years for Rouhani and lead to rising tensions in Iran’s internal and international politics,” he said.
“The new parliament will be comprised of parliamentarians who have mostly taken blatant positions against the 2015 nuclear deal,” he added.
What next? 
All ballots are counted manually, delaying official results for up to two or three days after the vote, especially in larger cities. 
On Saturday morning, the interior ministry will start releasing results for smaller constituencies.

The ministry of interior will also make an announcement about the voter turnout when all votes are counted.
For candidates who do not manage to get at least 20 percent of the votes cast, their parliament seats will need a second round of votes, likely to be held on April 17.
Final results will come in early next week, which will be approved by the Guardian Council. Those results will be released about two weeks later. 
Also known as the Majlis, Iran’s parliament is responsible for passing legislation in the country, approving the annual budget and ratifying international agreements and treaties.
All legislation passed by the Majlis is then approved by the Guardian Council and the president.
The parliament has a limited say in foreign affairs, although it played a crucial role in some of the country’s pivotal moments, including in 2015, when it approved the nuclear deal with world powers. The Majlis plays a bigger role in economic and other domestic politics.
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Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari executed, says state media |NationalTribune.com

Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari has been executed after being convicted of stabbing to death a security guard, according to state media. Afkari was executed “this morning after legal procedures were carried out at the insistence of the parents and the family of the victim”, Kazem Mousavi, head of the justice department in southern Fars province, was quoted…

Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari executed, says state media |NationalTribune.com

Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari has been executed after being convicted of stabbing to death a security guard, according to state media.
Afkari was executed “this morning after legal procedures were carried out at the insistence of the parents and the family of the victim”, Kazem Mousavi, head of the justice department in southern Fars province, was quoted as saying.
Authorities accused Afkari, 27, of stabbing the water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz. Iran broadcast the wrestler’s televised confession last week.
But Afkari said he was tortured into making a false confession, according to his family and activists. His lawyer said there was no proof of his guilt. Iran’s judiciary, however, denied the torture claims.
Afkari and his brothers were employed as construction workers in Shiraz, 680km (420 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.

Iran may ban ‘luxury product’ imports

The provincial court in Shiraz also sentenced Afkari’s brothers Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari to 54 and 27 years in prison, respectively, over the killing.
Afkari’s attorney accused authorities of denying his client a family visit before the execution, as required by law.
“Were you in so much hurry to execute the sentence that you also deprived Navid of a last meeting?” Hassan Younesi said on Twitter.
There was no immediate reaction by Iranian officials to the attorney’s accusation.
‘Very different’ stories
Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Tehran, said there are two different narratives about the murder.
“Outside Iran we’re hearing that Navid Afkari was arrested due to these protests that took place in 2018 and alleged killing of a security officer. Inside Iran, it’s very different. The judiciary released a statement a while ago – they said Navid Afkari was arrested after the murder of a 52-year-old water worker accompanying the Shiraz water company, and that murder took place on 23 July 2018.
“Navid Afkari was arrested by police a few days after, after they identified him using CCTV footage. As far as the judiciary is concerned, his arrest and conviction have nothing to do with the protests that took place,” said Baig.
Afkari was shown performing a stabbing gesture during a police reconstruction of the killing while saying, “I hit twice, once and then again.” Human rights groups frequently accuse Iran’s state media of airing coerced confessions. Iran denies the accusation.

Iran to execute alleged ‘CIA spy’ involved in Soleimani’s killing

The International Olympic Committee said the execution of Afkari was “very sad news”, adding in a statement that IOC President Thomas Bach had written this week to Iranian leaders asking for mercy for him, while respecting Iran’s sovereignty.
Trump’s appeal
Afkari’s sentencing had triggered a social media campaign that portrayed him and his brothers as victims targeted for participating in the 2018 protests. On Tuesday, a global union representing 85,000 athletes had called for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it executed Afkari.
United States President Donald Trump also expressed his own concerns.
“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him,” Trump tweeted earlier this month. “Thank you!”
Iran responded to Trump’s tweet by running an 11-minute state TV broadcast on Afkari, which included the weeping parents of Turkman.

Tehran housing cost skyrockets as people struggle to afford rent

The broadcast included visuals of Afkari on a motorbike, saying he stabbed Turkman in the back, without explaining why he allegedly carried out the assault.
The state TV segment also showed blurred police documents and described the killing as a “personal dispute”, without elaborating.
It said Afkari’s mobile phone had been in the area and it showed surveillance footage of him walking down a street, talking on his phone.
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency dismissed Trump’s tweet in a feature story, saying that American sanctions have hurt Iranian hospitals amid the pandemic.
“Trump is worried about the life of a murderer while he puts many Iranian patients’ lives in danger by imposing severe sanctions,” the agency said.
Baig noted state TV has carried an interview with the parents of Hassan Turkman, and in it they said their son was murdered and they had the right to retribution.
They added, “the foreign media had not even bothered speaking to them when their son was killed, and that he left behind three children. So there are two very different narratives,” said Baig.
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Iranian dissidents rally for regime change in Tehran

Iran’s theocracy is at the weakest point of its four-decade history and facing unprecedented challenges from a courageous citizenry hungry for freedom, Iranian dissidents and prominent U.S. and European politicians said Friday at a major international rally calling for the downfall of the dictatorship in Tehran. The annual “Free Iran Global Summit,” held virtually this…

Iranian dissidents rally for regime change in Tehran

Iran’s theocracy is at the weakest point of its four-decade history and facing unprecedented challenges from a courageous citizenry hungry for freedom, Iranian dissidents and prominent U.S. and European politicians said Friday at a major international rally calling for the downfall of the dictatorship in Tehran.

The annual “Free Iran Global Summit,” held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, brought together Iranian resistance groups and their allies around the world behind the common cause of pushing to replace Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s regime with a nonviolent democracy.

The summit — organized and hosted by the multinational umbrella organization the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its associate group, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) — was something of a technical marvel, uniting via Zoom tens of thousands of participants from 102 countries and 30,000 separate locations around the world.

Some Iranian resistance activists were even broadcasting into the summit from inside Iran at tremendous risk to their own safety, given the Khamenei regime’s history of violently cracking down on internal opposition.

Behind the logistical triumph was a simple message from the NCRI organizers that Iran’s clerics and terrorist sympathizers are living on borrowed time, facing unprecedented anger from within and crushing external pressure as the Trump administration’s financial sanctions campaign against Tehran continues to squeeze the Iranian economy.

“This generation is a constant nightmare for the mullahs. Indeed, the clerics have come face to face with a rebellious generation against which they are vulnerable,” acting NCRI President Maryam Rajavi said during a passionate address Friday morning. “Today in Iran, one of the greatest battles and one of the greatest tests of our time rages on between freedom and religious fascism, between democracy and religious fundamentalism. This is a battle intertwined with the destiny of contemporary humanity and global peace and security.”

Mrs. Rajavi delivered her address from the Ashraf-3 complex in Albania, which has become the headquarters of the movement and is home to MEK dissidents and resistance fighters dedicated to overthrowing an oppressive government that has ruled Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Leaders of the NCRI, which is comprised of multiple other organizations, say the council has seen its stature grow to the point that Iranian officials can no longer deny its influence.

The NCRI has many American supporters, including some with close relationships to Mr. Trump, such as former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, one the president’s personal lawyers. They say the organization not only has galvanized tens of thousands of Iranians behind its cause but also has fashioned itself into something of a shadow government that could potentially step into power in Tehran if the regime falls.

“We know the truth and they know the truth: They know this organization is a total threat to them,” Mr. Giuliani said during a speech delivered to Friday’s virtual summit.

“When they see today, this gathering of people taking advantage of Zoom and the new modern methods of communication,” he said. “They realize they have a formidable foe. They realize and can foresee how this group could easily stand up an interim government that could be a bridge to a permanent, democratic, free, prosperous and wonderful Iran.”

Other prominent American figures from both political parties participating represented a who’s who list of American “formers,” including former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, retired Marine Commandant James T. Conway and others. Several current U.S. officials also delivered remarks, including Sen. Martha McSally, Arizona Republican, and Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat.

Mrs. Rajavi, Mr. Giuliani and other speakers said the wave of popular protests inside Iran over the past three years prove that the time is ripe for dramatic change. In 2017, 2018, 2019, and again in January, swarms of protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against Iran’s leaders and their policies.

Thousands of those protesters, the NCRI and others have estimated, were killed or imprisoned as a result, though the Iranian government denies those claims.

Friday’s Free Iran summit was the first since Tehran and Washington came to the brink of all-out war last summer. After a series of military encounters in the Strait of Hormuz and Iranian-backed attacks on Americans inside Iraq, President Trump ordered an airstrike to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force and a designated terrorist.

Iran responded by firing rockets at U.S. personnel stationed in Iraq, though no Americans were killed. The two nations ultimately pulled back from the brink of war, but the administration continued its economic pressure campaign and urged its European allies to fully scrap the Obama-era nuclear deal. Mr. Trump exited the deal in 2018, arguing that it was too weak and still gave Tehran a pathway to nuclear weapons.

That pact was designed to offer Iran economic relief in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons program. But instead of investing in its people, critics argue Iran’s leaders used the money they received to enrich themselves and covertly deliver funds to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah.

“They’d rather send people to bomb us in Paris or to kill some of you in America than to feed their people,” Mr. Giuliani said Friday.

Even across Europe, where the Iran nuclear deal was much more popular than it was in the U.S., officials say Iran’s leadership has proven it can’t deliver for its people.

“The Iranian people want change, to have democracy, finally to have human rights, to finally have economic wealth, no more hunger. The will of the people is much stronger than any oppressive measure of an Iranian regime,” said Martin Patzelt, a member of German Parliament.

Whether it was the Iran nuclear deal or other policies, all efforts to reform the government in Tehran have failed and the only remaining option is for the Iranian people to rise up and install new leadership, said former U.S. Sen. Lieberman.

“We have reached a point where we can conclude, after all that has been tried with this criminal syndicate that is holding the people and history and culture of Iran hostage, that everything that has been tried has not worked,” he said. “It will come from the resistance fighters in Iran … and when they do turn their resistance into rebellion, we and the rest of the world — particularly the United States — must stand with them and support them. I am convinced that is a day that is coming.”

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US tries to seize four Iranian tankers sailing towards Venezuela |NationalTribune.com

US federal prosecutors are seeking to seize four tankers sailing towards Venezuela with gasoline supplied by Iran, the latest attempt to disrupt ever-closer trade ties between the two heavily-sanctioned anti-US allies. The civil-forfeiture complaint filed late on Wednesday in the District of Columbia federal court alleges the sale was arranged by a businessman, Mahmoud Madanipour,…

US tries to seize four Iranian tankers sailing towards Venezuela |NationalTribune.com

US federal prosecutors are seeking to seize four tankers sailing towards Venezuela with gasoline supplied by Iran, the latest attempt to disrupt ever-closer trade ties between the two heavily-sanctioned anti-US allies.
The civil-forfeiture complaint filed late on Wednesday in the District of Columbia federal court alleges the sale was arranged by a businessman, Mahmoud Madanipour, with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a US-designated foreign terrorist organisation.
“The profits from these activities support the IRGC’s full range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad,” prosecutor Zia Faruqui alleges in the complaint.
The Associated Press news agency reached out for comment to the Iranian mission to the United Nations but did not receive an immediate response.

The Trump administration has been stepping up pressure on ship owners to abide by sanctions against US adversaries like Iran, Venezuela and North Korea.
In May, it issued an advisory urging the global maritime industry to be on the lookout for tactics to evade sanctions like dangerous ship-to-ship transfers and the turning off of mandatory tracking devices – both techniques used in recent oil deliveries to and from both Iran and Venezuela.
The campaign appears to be working.
On Thursday, the US Treasury Department lifted sanctions on eight vessels that were recently found to have transported Venezuelan crude.
The move followed an auction on Wednesday of 100,000 barrels of gasoline seized from a Greek-managed ship whose owner suspected the cargo was heading towards Venezuela.
As commercial traders shun Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government has been increasingly turning to Iran.
In May, Maduro celebrated the arrival of five Iranian tankers delivering badly needed fuel supplies to alleviate shortages that have led to days-long gas lines even in the capital, Caracas, which is normally spared such hardships.

The El Palito refinery belches out smoke near Puerto Cabello in Venezuela [Ernesto Vargas/AP Photo]

Despite sitting atop the world’s largest crude reserves, Venezuela does not produce enough domestically-refined gasoline and has seen its overall crude production plunge to the lowest in more than 70 years amid the continuing crisis and fallout from US sanctions.
We are “two rebel nations, two revolutionary nations that will never kneel down before US imperialism,” Maduro said at the time. “Venezuela has friends in this world, and brave friends at that.”
The flotilla’s arrival angered the Trump administration, which struck back by sanctioning the five Iranian captains of the vessels.
The four tankers named in the complaint filed on Wednesday – the Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna – are currently transporting 1.1 million barrels of gasoline to Venezuela, prosecutors allege.
Of the four, the Bella is currently sailing near the Philippines, ship tracking data shows, while the Pandi appears to have turned off its satellite tracking system on June 29 after having spent two weeks between Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The other two were last spotted in May – the Bering near Greece and the Luna sailing between Oman and Iran.
One of the companies involved in the shipment to Venezuela, the Avantgarde Group, was previously linked to the Revolutionary Guard and attempts to evade US sanctions, according to prosecutors.
An affiliate of Avantgarde facilitated the purchase by the Revolutionary Guard of the Grace 1, a ship seized last year by the United Kingdom on US accusations that it was transporting oil to Syria.
Iran denied the charges and the Grace 1 was eventually released. But the seizure nonetheless triggered an international standoff in which Iran retaliated by seizing a British-flagged vessel.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with the ministers responsible for the economic sector at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela [File: Marco Bello/Reuters]

According to the asset forfeiture complaint, an unnamed company in February invoiced Avantgarde for a $14.9m cash payment for the sale of the gasoline on board the Pandi. Nonetheless, a text message between Mandanipour and an unnamed co-conspirator suggests the voyage had encountered difficulties.
“The ship owner doesn’t want to go because of the American threat, but we want him to go, and we even agreed We will also buy the ship,” according to the message, an excerpt of which was included in the complaint.
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