- - Tuesday, September 21, 2010

IRAN

Electricity bills soar as subsidy is slashed

TEHRAN | Many Iranian householders have been stunned by huge electricity bills since the government suddenly withdrew fuel subsidies without warning exactly when the cuts would fall.

Consumers said Tuesday their bills were as much as 1,000 percent higher than last month — the first hit from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s sweeping plan to save the state the $100 billion it pays to subsidize essential goods.

Mr. Ahmadinejad calls the subsidy reform “the biggest economic plan in the past 50 years,” but although Western economists say it is a necessary step to reduce waste, they have warned that any sudden price increases risk igniting public unrest.

The president’s political rivals within the conservative ruling elite also are likely to blame him for any backlash over the plan, which was meant to start six months ago but was delayed because of disagreements between Mr. Ahmadinejad and parliament.

A customer in Tehran was told that her two-month bill had gone from 800,000 rials (about $77) to 5 million rials (about $480) because of the combined effect of the subsidy cut and a policy of increasing charges on high consumers.

ISRAEL

Premier wants troops at Palestinian border

JERUSALEM | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is demanding that Israeli troops remain on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, further antagonizing the Palestinians at a time when they already are threatening to walk out of peace talks.

The negotiations, which resumed this month in Washington after a two-year breakdown, are foundering over Palestinian demands that Israel extend a curb on Jewish construction in the West Bank. That curb, in place for 10 months, is to expire Sunday.

Israel’s military chief told lawmakers on Tuesday that the military was preparing for possible clashes between Israelis and Palestinians should the negotiations run aground.

Resolution of the construction dispute is critical to the fate of the peace talks because the Palestinians say they won’t negotiate unless the construction slowdown continues.

GAZA STRIP

Hamas: Egypt arrested senior group official

GAZA CITY | Hamas said on Tuesday that Egypt has detained one of its senior officials, and Egyptian media reported he was being questioned over the death of an Egyptian soldier and a communications equipment shipment.

The Sept. 13 arrest of Mohammed Dababesh worsened already poor relations between Egypt and the Palestinian Islamist group, which has refused to sign a document drafted by Cairo on reconciliation between Hamas and the rival Fatah movement.

“We see this as an offense to Palestinian-Egyptian relations. It was unacceptable and unjustified,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told a news conference in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Mr. Dababesh, who was detained at Cairo airport after flying in from Saudi Arabia, is a senior official in Hamas’ internal security service.

TURKEY

Turkey says its banks aren’t busting sanctions

ANKARA | A senior Turkish minister said Tuesday that no Turkish banks or companies were in violation of U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

Trade Minister Zafer Caglayan was reacting to a Reuters news agency story that said Turkey and other U.S. allies have been allowing Iranian banks with suspected links to Tehran’s atomic program to do business within their borders, frustrating Western countries trying to squeeze the Islamic republic financially.

Turkey is obligated to implement the U.N. measures but not to restrict the activities of Iranian banks hit by sanctions imposed separately by the U.S. and European Union.

While Turkey is not compelled to abide by non-U.N. sanctions, those banks or firms that do business with Iranian companies blacklisted by Washington could face U.S. penalties.

Turkey, a candidate for EU membership, has enjoyed growing economic and financial relations with neighboring fellow Muslim state Iran.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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