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Iran, an increasingly burning issue for world powers
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) May 27, 2013

Japan right-wingers protest S. Korea daily's A-bomb comment
Tokyo (AFP) May 26, 2013 - A small group of Japanese right-wingers on Sunday staged a protest against a South Korean daily which said the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were "divine punishment".

Some 40 demonstrators, carrying Japanese "Rising Sun" flags, gathered outside a building where the Tokyo bureau of the Joongang Ilbo daily is located.

Last week an editorial in the daily's Korean and English versions said the 1945 nuclear bombs dropped by US planes, which together killed more than 200,000 people, were justified.

"The Joongang Ilbo, Shame on you!" the right-wingers yelled in chorus. "We will never forgive your anti-Japanese remarks. Go back to the Korean peninsula!"

The signed editorial said the carpet-bombing of the German city of Dresden and the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were acts of "divine punishment and human retaliation".

During the rally the right-wingers also backed outspoken Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto, who drew fire by saying that women forced to provide sex to Japanese troops during World War II were a military necessity.

Opinion polls show that a large majority of Japanese disagree with the mayor's remarks on the so-called "comfort women".

Up to 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere were forcibly drafted into brothels catering to the Japanese military during WWII, historians say.

The mayor has said wartime sex slavery served a "necessary" role keeping battle-stressed soldiers in line, setting off a volley of criticism from countries under Japan's rule in the 1930s and 1940s as well as from the US.

He later pledged to apologise for his comments, while insisting Japan's soldiers were not unique in brutalising women.

Earlier in the day, some 100 right-wingers staged a separate rally in Tokyo against foreign criminals in the country.

"Foreigners who commit crimes must not come to Japan!" the activists yelled as they marched through the capital's entertainment district of Shinjuku.

A controversial nuclear programme, suspected growing involvement in the Syrian conflict and tightly-controlled presidential elections -- Iran is an ever-increasing source of concern for Western powers.

Tehran last week excluded most would-be candidates from its June 14 elections, keeping only those loyal to the all-powerful supreme leader, dashing any hopes that a more moderate president would be voted into power.

And as world powers concentrate on rallying support for a June peace conference on Syria, the role of close Damascus ally Tehran in the bloody conflict is coming under increasing scrutiny.

"We see... that day after day Iran's forces are strongly engaged on the side of (Syrian President) Bashar Al-Assad, and this is certainly not the way to advance peace," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Sunday.

The issue is likely to come up at a Monday meeting in Paris on the Syria conference -- planned for June in Geneva -- between Fabius and his US and Russian counterparts.

Iran is accused by Western and Arab countries which back rebels fighting Assad of supplying weapons and sending military forces to the Syrian military, in a conflict that has claimed some 94,000 lives since 2011.

A top US official has said that Iranians are working alongside their Shiite Lebanese ally Hezbollah fighters to back Syrian troops battling to retake the rebel stronghold of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border.

But Iran has denied this, saying it has never sent military forces to Syria "and will never do so".

France has expressed reservations over any involvement of Iran in the peace conference, and Fabius said Sunday that Tehran's participation risked "preventing a political solution rather than favouring one."

Any hope that Iran's presidential election would bring about a change of tack was dashed last week when the country's Guardians Council barred hundreds of would-be candidates from taking part in the vote.

The unelected election watchdog cleared just eight individuals loyal to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's ultimate decision maker.

Most significantly, it rejected Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate ex-president who had held huge political sway.

Analysts say the move indicates that Khamenei is tightening his grip and eliminating any potential in-fighting ahead of a new government.

"The lack of transparency makes it highly unlikely that that slate of candidates is either going to represent the broad will of the Iranian people or represent a change," US Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday.

Alireza Nader of the US-based non-profit research organisation RAND Corporation said "there was some hope that a more moderate figure like Rafsanjani could be elected and soften Iran's stance on the nuclear issue."

But he said the eight candidates allowed to contest the polls are almost all "tightly linked to Khamenei. So we must not expect much if one of them becomes the next president."

Western powers accuse Tehran of developing an atomic bomb under cover of a civilian nuclear programme, which Iran has always categorically denied, and the two sides have for years been locked in negotiations on the issue.

These talks -- involving Iran and the so-called P5+1 group that includes the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany -- have not delivered any breakthroughs so far.

And the IAEA, the UN atomic agency, said this month that Iran was making significant progress in expanding its nuclear programme and had accelerated the installation of advanced uranium enrichment equipment at its Natanz plant.

Khamenei's attempt to consolidate more power comes at a time when Iran is struggling to cope with harsh economic sanctions over its nuclear programme, targeting its vital oil exports.

According to a top official at the US Treasury, Iran loses 3 to 5 billion dollars per month due to these sanctions that have pushed inflation in the country above 30 percent.

One Western diplomat who refused to be named said there should be even more pressure on Iran.

"Either we bring them to their knees economically, or there will be a military strike, which we would like to avoid," said the diplomat.


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Japan right-wingers protest S. Korea daily's A-bomb comment
Tokyo (AFP) May 26, 2013
A small group of Japanese right-wingers on Sunday staged a protest against a South Korean daily which said the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were "divine punishment". Some 40 demonstrators, carrying Japanese "Rising Sun" flags, gathered outside a building where the Tokyo bureau of the Joongang Ilbo daily is located. Last week an editorial in the daily's Korean and English ver ... read more

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