Students' Day in Iran sees police crackdown

Anti-government protesters in Iran subject to police violence. US clueless on Bin Laden’s location. Police in Sudan break up opposition rally. Zimbabwe still in need of $378m in aid. India and Russia reach agreement on nuclear programme. All this and more in today's update.
Maddy Fry
7 December 2009

Just as Iran was today commemorating the victims of a 1953 police assault on anti-American student protesters, Iranian police were reported to have surrounded the main university in Tehran in order to quell potential disquiet within. The Iranian government continues to crackdown on protests in the wake of a mass uprising in response to the contested results of the June election. Although the result saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned to power, his opponents, including Hussein Mousavi and two other rivals, and many of their supporters claimed that the process had been fraudulent and corrupt.

Protesters still made a display during the commemorative event, chanting anti-government slogans outside the University of Tehran. Members of the Revolutionary Guard responded by firing tear gas and engaging the demonstrators with batons. Mobile phone networks, email accounts and websites were shut down across the city to prevent demonstrators from communicating with one another, but this did little to hinder the gathering of dissenters. At least two supporters from the opposition were reported to have been arrested.

The openSecurity verdict: The Islamic Republic now finds itself the target of the same attacks made upon the regime of the Shah it displaced. Despite attempts by the regime to suppress new media protest, the opposition have resorted to low tech means, using CDs, pamphlets and word-of-mouth as a means of spreading their message. Similarly, in order to outmanoeuvre the ban on demonstrations, Mousavi’s supporters have been using state-sanctioned events, such as the one today, to insert their demands. This is not the first of its kind; an event commemorating the seizure of a US embassy building was similarly hi-jacked recently, with opposition supporters ignoring threats of a crackdown and coming out in droves in towns and cities across Iran. Key players in the opposition have maintained that this is a tactic they will continue to use in the future.

Try as they might, hardline government officials have failed by violent means to stifle the demand for change. Protests are now occurring almost daily within the country’s universities, with much anger being directed towards the Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as much as President Ahmadinejad. The divide between the regime and significant segments of the Iranian public grows ever larger, and given the intransigence of both sides, this is unlikely to be closed soon. This leaves the government in Tehran with little choice but to start making concessions, at least enough to divide and marginalise the opposition. Until such a time, and the wait may be long indeed, the violence looks as if it will only get worse.

US admits to lack of knowledge over Bin Laden’s location

Amid claims by US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates that the capture of Osama Bin Laden remains paramount to the US strategy for Afghanistan came the revelation that it has “been years” since any real progress had been made in finding him. Although many Western officials strongly believe that the al-Qaeda leader may be located in the tribal lands on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the government of the former has insisted that he is not to be found their side of the border. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made little effort to hide his frustration in recent days at what he sees as the Pakistani government’s lack of support in the pursuit of al-Qaeda.

Police in Sudan break up opposition rally

Three key figures within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party within the southern part of the country, were taken away by police as they arrived in the city of Omdurman. A group of protesters were also dispersed by police in the city after they set fire to the offices of the country-wide ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP). The unrest came after it was declared that campaigning for a referendum on whether independence should be granted to the southern area of Sudan would be made illegal. Despite the peaceful nature of the demonstration, with SPLM supporters marching through the streets holding placards and shouting slogans, the police chose to disperse the demonstrators violently with batons and tear gas.

Zimbabwe still in need of $378m in aid

The humanitarian needs of Zimbabwe’s civilians remain severe, claim UN aid agencies, even though social conditions within the country have improved since the implementation of a recent power-sharing agreement. In February, President Robert Mugabe, leader of the Zanu PF party, conceded to forming a government with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Although the shift in political focus has brought about some stabilising of socio-economic conditions, aid workers are insisting that more money is needed to provide water, food and sanitation facilities.

India and Russia reach agreement on nuclear programme

The governments of India and Russia have decided to reconstruct the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, which will allow the former country to expand its naval capabilities further into the Indian Ocean. The two have also agreed a reprocessing and enrichment arrangement allowing continued export of nuclear fuel to India, even should the agreement expire. India, whose nuclear development took place outside the confines of the NPT, successfully negotiated the end to an American embargo on nuclear cooperation in 2005. Since, however, India had expressed disappointment that America had not fully honoured its commitments to cooperate with India in support of its nuclear capacity.

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