Switzerland Tightens Sanctions over Iran Drone Deliveries to Russia

A handout photo made available by the State Emergency Service shows Ukrainian rescuers putting out a fire of industrial storage after shock drone debris fell on it, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Ukraine, 19 September 2023 amid the Russian invasion. EPA/STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE HANDOUT
A handout photo made available by the State Emergency Service shows Ukrainian rescuers putting out a fire of industrial storage after shock drone debris fell on it, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Ukraine, 19 September 2023 amid the Russian invasion. EPA/STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE HANDOUT
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Switzerland Tightens Sanctions over Iran Drone Deliveries to Russia

A handout photo made available by the State Emergency Service shows Ukrainian rescuers putting out a fire of industrial storage after shock drone debris fell on it, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Ukraine, 19 September 2023 amid the Russian invasion. EPA/STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE HANDOUT
A handout photo made available by the State Emergency Service shows Ukrainian rescuers putting out a fire of industrial storage after shock drone debris fell on it, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Ukraine, 19 September 2023 amid the Russian invasion. EPA/STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE HANDOUT

Switzerland adopted further sanctions in connection with Iran's drone deliveries to Russia, in line with European Union measures, the government said in a statement on Friday.

The sale, supply, export and transit of components used for the manufacture and production of drones is now prohibited, and targeted financial and travel sanctions against persons and entities connected with support for Iran's drone program are in place, added Switzerland's Federal Council.

The United States on Wednesday placed sanctions on entities and people based in several countries for aiding the Iranian attack drone program, which Washington accuses of supplying such weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine.

The US Treasury said it put sanctions on five entities and two people who were part of a network helping procure sensitive parts - including servomotors, which help control position and speed - for Iran's unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program.

The network facilitated shipments and financial transactions for the Revolutionary Guard Corps' procurement of such motors used in Iran's Shahed-136 drones, it said, adding that a motor procured by the network was found recently in the remains of a Russia-operated Shahed-136 drone shot down in Ukraine.



Iran Denies Providing Ballistic Missiles to Russia

Iranian ballistic missiles are displayed during the ceremony of joining the Armed Forces, in Tehran, Iran, August 22, 2023. Iran's Presidency/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via Reuters
Iranian ballistic missiles are displayed during the ceremony of joining the Armed Forces, in Tehran, Iran, August 22, 2023. Iran's Presidency/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via Reuters
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Iran Denies Providing Ballistic Missiles to Russia

Iranian ballistic missiles are displayed during the ceremony of joining the Armed Forces, in Tehran, Iran, August 22, 2023. Iran's Presidency/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via Reuters
Iranian ballistic missiles are displayed during the ceremony of joining the Armed Forces, in Tehran, Iran, August 22, 2023. Iran's Presidency/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via Reuters

Iran denied on Friday that it had provided ballistic missiles to Russia, after the United States said there would be a severe international response to any such move.

Earlier this week Reuters, citing six sources, reported that Iran had provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic weapons to Russia, deepening military cooperation between the two US-sanctioned nations.

The Biden administration warned Iran on Thursday of a "swift and severe" response from the international community if Tehran had provided ballistic missiles to Russia.

"Despite no legal restrictions on ballistic missile sales, Iran is morally obligated to refrain from weapon transactions during the Russia-Ukraine conflict to prevent fueling the war," Iran's mission to the United Nations said on the X platform.

"(That) is rooted in Iran's adherence to international law and the UN Charter," it added.

UN Security Council restrictions on Iran's export of some missiles, drones and other technologies expired in October.

However, the United States and the European Union retained sanctions on Iran's ballistic missile program amid concerns over exports of weapons to its proxies in the Middle East and to Russia.

Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia but months later said it had provided a small number before Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.


Somalia Will Defend Itself if Ethiopia Seals ‘Illegal’ Port Deal, President Says 

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud addresses the media inside his office in Mogadishu, Somalia February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud addresses the media inside his office in Mogadishu, Somalia February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
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Somalia Will Defend Itself if Ethiopia Seals ‘Illegal’ Port Deal, President Says 

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud addresses the media inside his office in Mogadishu, Somalia February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud addresses the media inside his office in Mogadishu, Somalia February 21, 2024. (Reuters)

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said his country would "defend itself" if Ethiopia goes ahead with a deal to set up a naval base in the breakaway region of Somaliland and possibly recognize the territory as an independent state.

Landlocked Ethiopia agreed a memorandum of understanding on Jan. 1 to lease 20 km (12 miles) of coastline in Somaliland - a territory that Somalia says it owns, even though the northern region has enjoyed effective autonomy since 1991.

Ethiopia said it wants to set up a naval base there and offered possible recognition of Somaliland in exchange - prompting a defiant response from Somalia and fears the deal could further destabilize the Horn of Africa.

"If Ethiopia insists, Somalia will resist and will refuse," Mohamud told Reuters on Tuesday in an interview at the heavily fortified presidential palace in Mogadishu.

"If they come into the country, Somalia will do everything that it can to defend itself."

He did not go into further detail on what action Somalia might take. The Horn of Africa has experienced repeated conflicts, feeding humanitarian crises in areas prone to drought. Neighboring Ethiopia and Somalia fought over territory in 1977-1978 and 1982.

Mohamud said he would only agree to discuss the matter with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed when the government in Addis Ababa renounces its intention "to take part of our country".

Ethiopia's government spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Abiy has previously said Ethiopia has no plans to start a conflict with Somalia and is merely trying to address its need for sea access.

Mohamud said he was not considering kicking out the nearly 3,000 Ethiopian soldiers stationed in Somalia as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission fighting militants from al Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate.

Analysts and diplomats fear a withdrawal of Ethiopian troops would further destabilize Somalia, where al Shabaab attacks have killed thousands of civilians and soldiers since 2006.

Somalia and several Western countries, including the United States, which regularly carries out strikes against militants in Somalia, have said Ethiopia's port deal has boosted al Shabaab's recruitment efforts.

Mohamud said his government's estimates showed al Shabaab had recruited between 6,000 and 8,000 new fighters in January alone.

Analysts and diplomats interviewed by Reuters were skeptical of that number, estimating the number of new recruits in the hundreds.


British-born Woman who Joined ISIS Loses Appeal over Citizenship Removal

(FILES) Renu, eldest sister of missing British girl Shamima Begum, holds a picture of her sister while being interviewed by the media in central London, on February 22, 2015. (Photo by LAURA LEAN / POOL / AFP)
(FILES) Renu, eldest sister of missing British girl Shamima Begum, holds a picture of her sister while being interviewed by the media in central London, on February 22, 2015. (Photo by LAURA LEAN / POOL / AFP)
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British-born Woman who Joined ISIS Loses Appeal over Citizenship Removal

(FILES) Renu, eldest sister of missing British girl Shamima Begum, holds a picture of her sister while being interviewed by the media in central London, on February 22, 2015. (Photo by LAURA LEAN / POOL / AFP)
(FILES) Renu, eldest sister of missing British girl Shamima Begum, holds a picture of her sister while being interviewed by the media in central London, on February 22, 2015. (Photo by LAURA LEAN / POOL / AFP)

A British-born woman who went to Syria as a schoolgirl to join ISIS lost her latest appeal on Friday over the removal of her British citizenship.
The British government took away Shamima Begum's citizenship on national security grounds in 2019, shortly after she was found in a detention camp in Syria.
Begum, now 24, argued the decision was unlawful, in part because British officials failed to properly consider whether she was a victim of trafficking, an argument that was rejected by a lower court in February 2023.
The Court of Appeal in London rejected her appeal on Friday following an appeal in October.
Judge Sue Carr said: "It could be argued that the decision in Ms. Begum's case was harsh. It could also be argued that Ms. Begum is the author of her own misfortune.
"But it is not for this court to agree or disagree with either point of view. Our only task is to assess whether the deprivation decision was unlawful.
"We have concluded it was not and the appeal is dismissed."


Putin Says 95% of Russia’s Nuclear Forces Have Been Modernized 

In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik late on February 22, 2024, Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers an address on Defender of the Fatherland Day at the Kremlin in Moscow. (AFP)
In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik late on February 22, 2024, Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers an address on Defender of the Fatherland Day at the Kremlin in Moscow. (AFP)
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Putin Says 95% of Russia’s Nuclear Forces Have Been Modernized 

In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik late on February 22, 2024, Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers an address on Defender of the Fatherland Day at the Kremlin in Moscow. (AFP)
In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik late on February 22, 2024, Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers an address on Defender of the Fatherland Day at the Kremlin in Moscow. (AFP)

President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that 95% of Russia's strategic nuclear forces had been modernized and that the Air Force had just taken delivery of four new supersonic nuclear-capable bombers.

Putin made the comments in a statement released to coincide with Russia's annual Defender of the Fatherland Day, which celebrates the army, a day after he flew on a modernized Tu-160M nuclear-capable strategic bomber.

The Russian leader praised soldiers fighting in Ukraine in what he called a "special military operation", hailing them as heroes battling for "truth and justice."

But he devoted much of his speech to what he said were the achievements of the military-industrial complex.

His message: that Russia's nuclear triad - its strategic land, sea and air nuclear capabilities - were up to date, being constantly modernized, and in good order.

"Incorporating our real combat experience, we will continue to strengthen the Armed Forces in every possible way, including ongoing re-equipping and modernization efforts," Putin said.

"Today, the share of modern weapons and equipment in the strategic nuclear forces has already reached 95 percent, while the naval component of the 'nuclear triad' is at almost 100 percent," he added.


Armenia Freezes Participation in Russia-Led Security Bloc 

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attends a joint press conference with French president (not seen) as part of a meeting on the sidelines of ceremony to admit Missak Manouchian and his resistance comrades to the Pantheon, in Paris, France, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attends a joint press conference with French president (not seen) as part of a meeting on the sidelines of ceremony to admit Missak Manouchian and his resistance comrades to the Pantheon, in Paris, France, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
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Armenia Freezes Participation in Russia-Led Security Bloc 

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attends a joint press conference with French president (not seen) as part of a meeting on the sidelines of ceremony to admit Missak Manouchian and his resistance comrades to the Pantheon, in Paris, France, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attends a joint press conference with French president (not seen) as part of a meeting on the sidelines of ceremony to admit Missak Manouchian and his resistance comrades to the Pantheon, in Paris, France, 21 February 2024. (EPA)

Armenia has frozen its participation in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) because the pact had failed the country, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in an interview broadcast on Thursday.

Pashinyan also said Azerbaijan, with which Armenia has fought two wars over the past three decades, was not adhering to the principles needed to clinch a long-term peace treaty, and suggested Azerbaijan was preparing to launch another attack.

Pashinyan told France 24 television that the CSTO pact, dominated by Russia, had failed Armenia.

"The Collective Security Treaty has not fulfilled its objectives as far as Armenia is concerned, particularly in 2021 and 2022. And we could not let that happen without taking notice," Pashinyan said through an interpreter.

"We have now in practical terms frozen our participation in this treaty. As for what comes next, we shall have to see."

He said there was no discussion for the moment of closing a Russian base in Armenia. That was subject to different treaties.

Pashinyan has in recent months expressed discontent with Armenia's longstanding ties with Russia and said Armenia could no longer rely on Russia to ensure its defense needs. He had suggested its membership of the CSTO was under review.

Other ex-Soviet members of the CSTO include Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Azerbaijan recovered swathes of territory in 2020 in the second war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, populated mainly by ethnic Armenians but internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Last year, Azerbaijan's military took control of the territory, prompting most of its residents to leave for Armenia.

In his remarks, Pashinyan said prospects for clinching a long-term peace treaty were hurt by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's statements which Armenia interpreted as laying claim to large parts of Armenian territory.

"If the principles of territorial integrity and inviolability of borders are not recognized by Azerbaijan, it is simply not possible," he told France 24.

"Azerbaijan is using the situation to feed its rhetoric. That leads one to think that Azerbaijan is getting ready for a new attack on Armenia."

Key elements in securing a treaty are demarcation of borders and the establishment of regional transport corridors often through the territory of each others' territory.

Aliyev has also raised the issue of determining control of ethnic enclaves on both sides of the border.

Pashinyan and Aliyev have discussed moves towards a peace treaty at several meetings, including discussions last week at the Munich Security Conference.


Russian Drone Strike on Ukrainian Regions Kills Four, Kyiv Says 

Firefighters work at a site of Russian drone and missile strikes, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine February 23, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Odesa region/Handout via Reuters)
Firefighters work at a site of Russian drone and missile strikes, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine February 23, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Odesa region/Handout via Reuters)
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Russian Drone Strike on Ukrainian Regions Kills Four, Kyiv Says 

Firefighters work at a site of Russian drone and missile strikes, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine February 23, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Odesa region/Handout via Reuters)
Firefighters work at a site of Russian drone and missile strikes, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine February 23, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Odesa region/Handout via Reuters)

Russian drone and missile attacks on Ukrainian regions in the south and east killed four people overnight and damaged residential and commercial buildings, officials said on Friday. 

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 23 out of 31 Russian-launched drones over five regions, the air force said. 

"Another difficult night for Ukrainians. The enemy launched three dozen Shaheds and six missiles at peaceful settlements of the country," said Oleksiy Kuleba, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office. 

The attacks killed four people and wounded nine others, Kuleba said. 

Three people were killed in the Black Sea port of Odesa when a Russian drone hit a commercial area, causing a blaze, regional governor Oleh Kiper said. 

In an attack on the Donetsk region near the front lines, one civilian was killed in the town of Myrnohrad, and 21 houses, a school, and a multi-story residential building were damaged, Kuleba said. 

In a post on Telegram, the military's Southern Forces said they had intercepted nine drones in the Odesa region. 

The military said missiles were also used in the attacks, but failed to hit any targets. 

Pictures posted by the military showed heavy damage to buildings in the area and rescue teams picking their way through debris. 

As the war enters its third year, Russia has intensified its bombardments of Ukrainian ports, including Odesa, and grain infrastructure in recent months after Moscow pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a wartime deal that enabled Ukraine’s exports to reach many countries facing the threat of hunger. 

Kyiv has since set up an alternative corridor to ship grain and other products via its Black Sea ports near Odesa.  

In the city of Dnipro in the southeast, a Russian drone hit an apartment building, injuring at least eight people and damaging the two top floors. Serhiy Lysak, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, wrote on Telegram that the search ran through the night and other residents might still be under the rubble. 


Israeli Defense Firms Make Air Show Return, Tight-lipped on Gaza War

Guests stand next to the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems booth at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on February 21, 2024. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)
Guests stand next to the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems booth at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on February 21, 2024. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)
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Israeli Defense Firms Make Air Show Return, Tight-lipped on Gaza War

Guests stand next to the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems booth at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on February 21, 2024. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)
Guests stand next to the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems booth at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on February 21, 2024. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)

Israel's military industry was out in force at the Singapore Airshow this week, making its return after being largely absent from the Dubai air show in November in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, a subject that was off limits at the Asia summit.
The Israeli ministry of defense and 11 of its defense contractors attended Asia's largest aerospace and defense gathering, including Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Elbit Systems.
IAI, Rafael, Elbit and the defense ministry all declined to comment on the war in Gaza, including the performance of their own weapons.
"We don't discuss weapons," Ziv Avni, vice president of business development at Elbit, told Reuters at the unveiling of its latest aerial drone, which a placard said could carry "loitering munitions for covert and precise airstrikes".
Israel has faced criticism and protests over its months-long military campaign in Gaza, which the health ministry there says has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians.
Israel began its military offensive in Gaza after fighters from Hamas-ruled Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
The war wasn't brought up by delegates at the Singapore event and didn't dampen appetite for Israel's missiles, spy gear and aerial drones, two Israeli industry officials at the show told Reuters, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.


US: 4 Charged in Transporting Suspected Iranian-made Weapons to Houthis

This image released by the US Department of Justice in an FBI affidavit filed in US District Court, Alexandria, Va., shows what is described as Iranian-made warhead bound for Yemen's Houthis seized off a vessel in the Arabian Sea. (US Department of Justice via AP, File)
This image released by the US Department of Justice in an FBI affidavit filed in US District Court, Alexandria, Va., shows what is described as Iranian-made warhead bound for Yemen's Houthis seized off a vessel in the Arabian Sea. (US Department of Justice via AP, File)
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US: 4 Charged in Transporting Suspected Iranian-made Weapons to Houthis

This image released by the US Department of Justice in an FBI affidavit filed in US District Court, Alexandria, Va., shows what is described as Iranian-made warhead bound for Yemen's Houthis seized off a vessel in the Arabian Sea. (US Department of Justice via AP, File)
This image released by the US Department of Justice in an FBI affidavit filed in US District Court, Alexandria, Va., shows what is described as Iranian-made warhead bound for Yemen's Houthis seized off a vessel in the Arabian Sea. (US Department of Justice via AP, File)

Four foreign nationals were arrested and charged Thursday with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons on a vessel intercepted by US naval forces in the Arabian Sea last month. Two Navy SEALs died during the mission.

The criminal complaint unsealed Thursday in US District Court in Richmond alleges that the four defendants — who were all carrying Pakistani identification cards — were transporting suspected Iranian-made missile components for the type of weapons used by the Houthis in Yemen in recent attacks.

The flow of missiles and other advanced weaponry from Iran to Houthi militias in Yemen “threatens the people and interests of America and our partners in the region,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a news release.

US officials said that Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers was boarding the boat on Jan. 11 and slipped into the gap created by high waves between the vessel and the SEALs’ combatant craft. As Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram jumped in to try to save him, according to US officials familiar with what happened.

“Two Navy SEALs tragically lost their lives in the operation that thwarted the defendants charged today from allegedly smuggling Iranian-made weapons that the Houthis could have used to target American forces and threaten freedom of navigation and a vital artery for commerce," Monaco said.
According to The Associated Press, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland pledged that the Justice Department “will use every legal authority to hold accountable those who facilitate the flow of weapons” from Iran to the Houthis, Hamas, and other groups “that endanger the security of the United States and our allies.”

Muhammad Pahlawan is charged with attempting to smuggle advanced missile components, including a warhead he is accused of knowing would be used by the Houthis against commercial and naval vessels in the Red Sea and surrounding waters. He is also charged with providing false information to US Coast Guard officers during the boarding of the vessel.

Pahlawan's co-defendants — Mohammad Mazhar, Ghufran Ullah and Izhar Muhammad — were also charged with providing false information.

Pahlawan's attorney, Assistant Supervisory Federal Public Defender Amy Austin, said Pahlawan had an initial appearance in US District Court Thursday and is scheduled to be back in court Tuesday for a detention hearing. She declined to comment on the case.

“Right now, he’s just charged with two crimes and we’re just at the very beginning stages, and so all we know is what’s in the complaint,” Austin said when reached by phone Thursday.

According to prosecutors, Navy forces boarded a small, unflagged vessel, described as a dhow, and encountered 14 people on the ship on the night of Jan. 11, in the Arabian Sea off the Somali coast.

Navy forces searched the dhow and found what prosecutors say was Iranian-made weapons, including components for medium range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles.

All 14 sailors on the dhow were brought onto the USS Lewis B. Puller after Navy forces determined the dhow was not seaworthy. They were then brought back to Virginia, where criminal charges were filed against four and material witness warrants were filed against the other 10.

According to an FBI affidavit, Navy forces were entitled to board the ship because they were conducting an authorized “flag verification” to determine the country where the dhow was registered.

The dhow was determined to be flying without a flag and was therefore deemed a “vessel without nationality” that was subject to US law, the affidavit states.

According to the affidavit, the sailors on the dhow admitted they had departed from Iran, although at least one of the men initially insisted they departed from Pakistan.

The affidavit states that crew members had been in contact multiple times by satellite phone with a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.


Iran Starts First Election Campaign Since 2022 Mass Protests Over Amini’s Death

Iranians walk next to a symbol of the election ballot box during the first day of Iran's parliamentary election campaigns in a street in Tehran, Iran, 22 February 2024. (EPA)
Iranians walk next to a symbol of the election ballot box during the first day of Iran's parliamentary election campaigns in a street in Tehran, Iran, 22 February 2024. (EPA)
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Iran Starts First Election Campaign Since 2022 Mass Protests Over Amini’s Death

Iranians walk next to a symbol of the election ballot box during the first day of Iran's parliamentary election campaigns in a street in Tehran, Iran, 22 February 2024. (EPA)
Iranians walk next to a symbol of the election ballot box during the first day of Iran's parliamentary election campaigns in a street in Tehran, Iran, 22 February 2024. (EPA)

Candidates for Iran's parliament began campaigning Thursday in the country's first election since the 2022 crackdown on nationwide protests that followed the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody.

Iran's state television said 15,200 candidates will compete for a four-year term in the 290-seat chamber, which has been controlled by hard-liners for the past two decades. It's a record number and more than twice the candidates who ran in the 2020 election, when voter turnout was just over 42%, the lowest since the 1979 revolution, reported The Associated Press.

Amini died in September 2022, after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s strict headscarf law that forces women to cover their hair and entire bodies. The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. In the severe crackdown that followed, over 500 people were killed and nearly 20,000 were arrested, according to human rights activists in Iran.

On Wednesday, the Guardian Council election watchdog sent the names of the 15,200 qualified candidates to the interior ministry, which holds the election. Any candidate for elections in Iran must be approved by the Council, a 12-member clerical body, half of whom are directly appointed by the supreme leader.

The candidates include 1,713 women, which is more than double the 819 who ran in 2020. The election will be held March 1, and the new parliament will convene in late May.

Large billboards and election posters have sprung up in Tehran and other cities to announce the start of campaigning, urging people to take part.

But the first official day of campaigning did not see a large number of banners erected in favor of individual candidates or their coalitions.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has urged people to head to the polling stations.

"Everyone should participate in elections," he said on Sunday. "It is important to choose the best person, but the priority is for people to participate."

Large posters have been erected of Khamenei casting a vote at a polling station during a previous election. The few opinion polls that have been held and released in recent weeks showed that more than half the Iranians are indifferent about taking part in the elections.

Public discontent

Some opposition figures in Iran and members of the diaspora have in recent weeks called for a total boycott of the polls.

In the absence of serious competition from reformists and moderates, journalist Maziar Khosravi expected the new parliament would likely continue to be controlled by conservatives.

Only between 20 and 30 of the reformist candidates who submitted applications have been approved to run in the upcoming election, reformist politicians said.

The current parliament, elected in 2020, has been dominated by conservatives and ultra-conservatives after many reformists and moderates were disqualified.

On Monday, former reformist president Mohammad Khatami said Iran was "very far from free, participatory, and competitive elections".

He pointed to growing popular "discontent" among Iranians.

Former moderate president Hassan Rouhani has called on the people to vote "to protest against the ruling minority", but he did not call for a boycott.

Rouhani recently announced that he was barred from seeking re-election to the Assembly of Experts after 24 years of membership.

The Reform Front, a key coalition of reformist parties, has meanwhile said it will not take part in "meaningless, non-competitive, and ineffective elections".

"Most of the candidates, particularly in small constituencies, are doctors, engineers, civil servants, and teachers who are not affiliated with any political group," said the journalist Khosravi.

By allowing such a large pool of candidates to run, the government "wants to create local competition and increase participation" to help attract voters, he added.

Despite the absence of challengers to the conservatives, "the battle is expected to be serious and bloody," he added.

He nonetheless predicted that current MPs would not be re-elected for a new term, especially as "economic conditions have made people unhappy with the current representatives."

Double vote

Current parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf will run for election from his hometown, a constituency in the remote northeast, after winning a seat in the capital of Tehran four years ago.

Such a change in districts usually indicates shrinking popularity. In recent years, his fellow hard-line critics have occasionally accused him of ignoring the rights of other parliament members and disregarding reports of corruption while he was Tehran mayor.

In a separate election on March 1, 144 clerics will compete for the all-cleric 88-seat Assembly of Experts that functions as an advisory body to Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters. Their assembly members' term is eight years.

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, who is also an assembly member, will seek reelection for the assembly seat in a remote constituency in South Khorasan province, competing against a low-profile cleric there.

Under the constitution, the assembly monitors the country’s supreme leader and chooses his successor. Khamenei, who will be 85 in April, has been supreme leader for 34 years.


Biden Meets Alexei Navalny's Widow, Daughter in California

President Joe Biden meets Thursday with Yulia Navalnaya, Alexei Navalny’s window, and daughter Dasha Navalnaya in San Francisco (White House X account)
President Joe Biden meets Thursday with Yulia Navalnaya, Alexei Navalny’s window, and daughter Dasha Navalnaya in San Francisco (White House X account)
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Biden Meets Alexei Navalny's Widow, Daughter in California

President Joe Biden meets Thursday with Yulia Navalnaya, Alexei Navalny’s window, and daughter Dasha Navalnaya in San Francisco (White House X account)
President Joe Biden meets Thursday with Yulia Navalnaya, Alexei Navalny’s window, and daughter Dasha Navalnaya in San Francisco (White House X account)

US President Joe Biden met in California on Thursday with the widow and daughter of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died last week in a prison in Russia, the White House announced.
Biden met with Yulia Navalnaya, Alexei's widow, and daughter Dasha Navalnaya in San Francisco to “express his heartfelt condolences,” the White House said.
Biden reaffirmed his intention to impose “major new sanctions” in response to Navalny's death, according to AFP.
The Biden administration is expected to unveil the sanctions Friday.
Navalny, 47, and a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died last week in the penal colony in Yamal near the Arctic Circle, where he was serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism.
In 2020, the Russian opposition figure was poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent and had blamed the Kremlin for his poisoning.
Western leaders have held Putin directly responsible for the death of the Russian opposition leader in prison.