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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran demanded an apology from Saudi Arabia on Sunday over the deaths of 769 people at the haj pilgrimage and accused it of trying to evade blame, while Riyadh in turn accused Tehran of playing politics with the disaster.

At least 155 Iranian pilgrims died in the crush of pilgrims on Thursday near Mecca and 300 other Iranians remain unaccounted for. Iranian officials say that, three days after the incident, they suspect most of the missing are dead too.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Muslim countries should demand Saudi Arabia be held to account for the deaths. The kingdom presents itself as the guardian of Islamic orthodoxy and custodian of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina.

“Instead of blaming this and that, the Saudis should accept the responsibility and apologize to the Muslims and the victims’ families,” Khamenei was quoted as saying on his own website.

“The Islamic world has a lot of questions. The death of more than 1,000 people is not a small issue. Muslim countries should focus on this,” Khamenei said.

Other Iranian officials have also alleged the total death toll is more than 1,000. Khamenei ordered the bodies of the Iranian victims to be buried in martyrs’ cemeteries.

Iranians MPs blamed Saudi Arabia for “their mismanagement and incompetence”.

“The Iranian government should follow up this case in Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and ask for shared management of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina during haj,” lawmakers said in a statement published by Fars news agency.

Dozens of protesters gathered in front of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, chanting “down with the United States and Saudi Arabia.” They were watched by a large contingent of police.

Thursday’s disaster, the worst to befall the haj in 25 years, happened when two large groups of pilgrims converged at a crossroads in Mina, a few kilometers east of Mecca, on their way to perform the “stoning of the devil” ritual at Jamarat.

A Saudi doctor at a hospital near Mecca said he suspected more than 1,000 had died, but cautioned this was only a personal impression.

He said many had died from heat stroke and dehydration as they had remained out under blazing sun for hours after being trapped in the crush.

ACRIMONY

Shi’ite Muslim Iran is involved in a number of conflicts in Arab countries, including Iraq, Syria and Yemen, to great opposition from the Sunni Muslim kingdom. The deaths at Mina have heightened the acrimony between the two countries.

A cartoon published by Iran’s Tasnim news agency depicted King Salman of Saudi Arabia as a camel trampling pilgrims.Kayhan newspaper showed him shaking hands with one of the pillars symbolizing the devil in the haj’s stoning ritual.

Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat appeared to blame Iranian pilgrims for the disaster. It quoted comments it said came from Iranian officials saying a group of 300 Iranian pilgrims had set off to perform a ritual ahead of their assigned schedule, leading to a collision with other pilgrims.

The incident cast a shadow over the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir accused Iran of exploiting the tragedy.

“This is not a situation with which to play politics,” he said before meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday.

“I would hope that the Iranian leaders would be more sensible and more thoughtful with regards to those who perished in this tragedy and wait until we see the results of the investigation.”

Saudi newspaper al-Hayat reported Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif had asked to meet Jubeir on the sidelines of the assembly but his request had been rejected because it “came in an arrogant way and out of place”.

Iran has summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires three times to ask Riyadh for more cooperation over the incident.

“The reports show that Saudis are responsible for this incident by their mismanagement and negligence,” Ali Larijani, Iranian parliament speaker, was quoted as saying by Tasnim.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Marwa al-Malik; Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Roche)

File photo: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casting his ballot in the Iranian presidential election in Tehran June 12, 2009. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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