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Obama calls for 'nation-building' at home
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Sept 1, 2012

UN chief calls on Iran to free all political prisoners
Tehran (AFP) Aug 31, 2012 - UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called on Iran to free all its political prisoners, in a speech obtained by AFP on Friday and delivered in Tehran on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Movement summit.

"I have urged the authorities during my visit this time to release opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and social activists to create the conditions for free expression and open debate," Ban said, according to the text of the address delivered late Thursday to an Iranian diplomats' college.

Ban said that allowing the Iranian people's voice to be heard was especially important ahead of the country's 2013 presidential election, when a successor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be chosen.

"Restricting freedom of expression and suppressing social activism will only set back development and plant the seeds of instability," Ban warned.

The last presidential election in Iran in 2009, which saw Ahmadinejad declared the winner amid allegations by his challengers of fraud, was followed by widespread protests that were brutally crushed by authorities.

The figureheads of the opposition "Green Movement" have languished under house arrest ever since.

Iranian officials gave no immediate reaction to Ban's speech.

A brief state television report on the address referred only to the very last part of Ban's speech, in which he thanked Iran for giving him a Persian carpet as a gift.

Elsewhere in his speech, Ban expanded on points he presented at the opening of the two-day NAM summit in Tehran, especially warning Iran it faced isolation if it did not comply with UN resolutions demanding it curb its nuclear programme.

Stressing "the cost of Iran's current trajectory," he said that "any country at odds with the international community is one that denies itself much-needed investment and finds itself isolated from the thrust of common progress."

Returning to Iran's human rights record and repression of political dissidents, he said: "Any country at odds with itself deprives itself of its people's energy and goodwill, and sets the stage for future instability."

President Barack Obama marked the second anniversary of the end of the US combat mission in Iraq by calling Saturday for "nation-building" back in the United States as it battles a slumping economy.

The president declared an end to US combat operations in Iraq on August 31, 2010 after a seven-year war. All US forces returned home at the end of last year.

"As we turn the page on a decade of war, it's time to do some nation-building here at home," Obama said in his weekly address.

He praised the skills, discipline and leadership of American veterans, and vowed to better reward them for their service through improved access to jobs and housing.

"No one who fights for this country should have to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home," he said.

"It's time to build a nation that lives up to the ideals that so many Americans have fought for -- a nation where they can realize the dream they sacrificed to protect."

The president called for putting veterans back to work by rebuilding the country's aging infrastructure and electrical grid, as well as by boosting the ranks of police and firefighters.

The president made his political name opposing the Iraq war even before he was elected to the Senate in 2004, and regards bringing US troops home as the fulfillment of one of his core political promises.

His decision will feature prominently next week in three days of speeches and events culminating in his acceptance of the Democratic Party nomination as he seeks a second term in the White House in November.

Polls show that Obama's foreign policy performance is one of his strongest credentials as he asks voters for re-election, even as Republicans accuse him of weakness abroad and of presiding over an erosion of US power.

On Friday, Obama told soldiers headed for Afghanistan that they still faced a "very tough fight" but pledged to end the war as "responsibly" as he halted conflict in Iraq.

The Afghan government is set to take the lead for securing the country next year under a transition designed to ultimately hand over responsibility for the country's security to Afghan forces in 2014.

"But as long as we have a single American in harm's way, we will continue to do everything in our power to keep them safe and help them succeed," the president said in his address.

In a Republican response, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana urged the president not to allow the expiration of tax cuts adopted under former president George W. Bush.

The tax breaks are set to expire on January 1. But Democrats and Republicans strongly disagree over how to extend them.

While Obama favors higher taxes for the rich, the Republicans argue it would undercut the nation's fragile economic recovery.

Scalise warned that such a tax hike would kill over 700,000 jobs.

"That's a blow our small businesses just can't afford to take," he said.


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