Iranians shut out of 'World of Warcraft'; U.S. rules cited

Worldofwarcraft

TEHRAN -- Iranians have scaled back as their economy is squeezed by Western sanctions, scrimping on meat and cutting down on small luxuries.

But now those pressures have intruded on a world that once seemed safe from geopolitical wrangling:  an online fantasy realm of goblins, dragons and warlocks enjoyed by more than 9 million paying subscribers around the world.

Sanctions by the United States, it seems, have hit "World of Warcraft."

Iranian gamers took to the "World of Warcraft" message board this week, complaining that they had been shut out of the online game. “Well, as if life of an Iranian couldn't get worse, the Battle.net became completely inaccessible as of today,” one "World of Warcraft" fan wrote in frustration.

Another lamented, “Well we had a good run, Goodbye cruel world ...”

Some speculated that the Iranian government must have shut them down, concerned that the game glorified mythology and violence. But a gaming company employee replied this week that U.S. sanctions were to blame for Iranians getting booted after paying for the game.

Blizzard Entertainment, the U.S. company behind the popular game, “tightened up its procedures to ensure compliance with these laws, and players connecting from the affected nations are restricted from access,” one of its employees explained in an online message to gamers.

The same rules stopped Blizzard from offering refunds, the employee wrote. “We apologize for any inconvenience this causes and will happily lift these restrictions as soon as U.S. law allows.”

The U.S. Treasury Department said it hadn't asked Blizzard to block the game and referred questions about the decision to the company. It said that Blizzard could seek government permission to get Iranians back into online warfare.

“Clearly the focus of our sanctions is not on video games,” U.S. Treasury spokesman John Sullivan said. “We would consider a license request from Blizzard Entertainment should they choose to apply for one.”

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In Iran, columnist offers tough talk about Syria

TEHRAN -- As battles rage across Syria, the crisis has provoked a renewed round of saber-rattling in Iran, President Bashar Assad's staunchest international ally.

An influential columnist in an Iranian daily close to hard-liners gave a dire warning this week of the possibility of “world war” as global  powers face off on Syria.

Viewing the conflict in strictly geopolitical terms, columnist Sadollah Zaree wrote that a U.S-led “axis,” including  Saudi Arabia and Turkey, sought to undermine the Syrian government, backed by allies Iran and Russia.

“The anti-Syrian measures are a high risk and can lead to world war,” Zaree thundered in an editorial published in the Kayhan newspaper. The pro-Assad bloc of Russia and Iran, he wrote, had “of course” significantly “more legitimacy.”

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European Union widens sanctions against Syria

Eu foreign ministers
LONDON -- With the bloody uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad now at a “critical juncture,” the European Union announced Monday that it was slapping sanctions on more Syrian individuals and organizations and stepping up enforcement of its 14-month-old arms embargo.

Starting Tuesday, the EU’s 27-member nations will stop and search any ship or aircraft in their ports, airports and territorial waters if there is reasonable suspicion that the vessels are transporting weapons to Syria. Any item found that could aid Syrian security forces “must be seized.”

“The EU is deeply concerned about the recent intensification of violence, including in Damascus, which demonstrates the urgent need for a political transition that would meet the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people and bring back stability in Syria,” EU foreign ministers said in a statement following a meeting in Brussels.

Also Tuesday, the list of Syrians under economic sanction will be expanded to include 26 more people and three entities associated with the government crackdown. Their assets will be frozen, and the individuals will be banned from traveling to the EU.

The added names, to be published Tuesday, constitute the 17th time that Europe has widened its sanctions regarding Syria. In all, 155 people and 52 organizations have been targeted.

The new measures come amid escalating bloodshed between the government and rebel fighters, who scored a stunning coup last week by assassinating four senior officials of Assad’s inner circle. The increased violence engulfing Damascus, the capital, has led some analysts to believe that the endgame in the long-running conflict could be near.

The EU warned of wider regional instability as a result of the battle for control of Syria, which is flanked by Turkey, Iran, Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations. European diplomats reaffirmed their support for a peace plan put forward by Kofi Annan, the United Nations special envoy, but that plan looks increasingly irrelevant.

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-- Henry Chu

Photo: Foreign ministers from European Union countries met in Brussels on Monday. Credit: Georges Gobet / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.


Iran media warned off of reporting negatively on economy, sanctions

BEIRUT — Media workers in Iran say government monitors are telling journalists to refrain from reporting about the effects of Western sanctions on the country's economy and about soaring prices for everyday goods.

An editor at one Iranian economic daily, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the topic, told The Times that censors had warned the top editor to avoid publishing negative headlines about the impact of sanctions. The editor, said the source, was urged to switch to more positive headlines. As an example of a desired headline, the censor cited the following, he said: “Iran is developing oil fields, says oil minister.”

In some cases, the censors’ warning was a bit more veiled. A reporter working at an Iranian media outlet, who also requested anonymity, told The Times that the organization had been sent a letter from the government media supervisory department telling journalists to pay “special attention” to topics that show the dark side of the Iranian economy.

“Special attention,” added the source, was taken to mean stay away from publishing reports about price hikes and the effect of sanctions.

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Iranians want end to sanctions, short-lived poll finds

 TEHRAN -- In a rare glimpse of public opinion in Iran, more than 60% of respondents to an online survey on the website of the state television news channel said they would favor Tehran ending  uranium enrichment activities in exchange for the gradual removal of international sanctions.

The poll results seem to run counter to repeated declarations by Iranian officials that the public is solidly behind the controversial nuclear enrichment program.

The responses could reflect public dissatisfaction with rising prices and Iran’s foundering economy, which has been battered by successive waves of Western-led sanctions, most recently targeting the key petroleum export sector.

The  news site that conducted the poll, irinn.ir, removed the results from the site under opaque circumstances. There was no trace of the poll on Wednesday, a day after the results were posted and some Persian-language media began reporting on the findings.

Observers say that conducting such a survey on a sensitive national security issue -- and then posting  in on a state-run website -- was rare in the autocratic Islamic Republic.

But irinn.ir did carry a news item Wednesday that called into question the results of its own  survey, which featured people responding  anonymously on the Internet. Because only 2,000 people responded, the website declared,  the results did “not represent the whole population of Iran.”

Instead, website readers were asked to weigh in Wednesday on a different poll:  a survey about a  popular Iranian soccer team, its new coach and its chances of winning the cup in the local league.

Later, several semiofficial news sites disputed the results of nuclear-enrichment poll, saying that the initially reported count was mistaken. Fewer than one-quarter of respondents actually favored ending nuclear enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief, the semi-official sites reported.

And in another twist, the Associated Press reported Wednesday that  Iranian state TV charged that the British Broadcasting Corp.'s  Persian-language service had hacked into its website to change the results of the poll to make it appear that respondents favored dumping nuclear enrichment if that would lead to a reduction in sanctions. The  BBC said in a statement that the claims were “both ludicrous and completely false, and the BBC Persian Service stands by its reporting,” the Associated Press reported.

According to a Radio Free Europe report, the nuclear survey asked respondents which approach they favored in dealing with Western sanctions against Iran. Respondents  were given three choices.

Almost two thirds, 63%, chose option No. 1:  Iran should relinquish  its uranium enrichment efforts in exchange for the “gradual removal of sanctions,” according to the Radio Free Europe summary. The remaining respondents were split between  backing hard-liner demands for a retaliatory shutdown of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a vital route for Middle Eastern oil exports, or  retaining “nuclear rights” and continued “resistance” against “unilateral sanctions.”

The United States and the European Union have in recent months bolstered sanctions against Tehran because of its contested nuclear program. Iran has vowed never to bend to sanctions and to continue with its nuclear development, which Iranian officials say is strictly for  peaceful purposes. Western and Israeli  officials suspect that Iran is attempting to develop an atomic bomb.

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 -- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut


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