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The Latest from Iran (13 December): Bubbling Over?

BASIJ STUDENTS1940 GMT: More Positions on the "Burning of Khomeini": More than 230 members of Parliament have issued a statement strongly condemning the incident, presumably (but not clearly, at least in the Press TV report) criticising the opposition and calling on the judiciary officials to punish those responsible. Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has also denounced the act, expressing hope that it would not be repeated.

Iranian Students News Agency have published a series of photos (see inset) of Basij students of Azad University protesting in Jamaran, the neighbourhood where Imam Khomeini lived. Islamic Republic News Agency writes about the sit-in of Basij students at Tehran University.

1935 GMT: We Really Don't Have A Clue. Mehr News tries --- and fails --- to answer our question about President Ahmadinejad's meeting with Ali Larijani and Sadegh Larijani, "What Did They Say?" (1640 GMT): "The subsidy bill, which has become a thorny dispute between the Majlis and the administration, probably featured prominently in the talks. The Judiciary’s investigation of major economic corruption cases was also likely high on the agenda."

1800 GMT: Ayatollah Bayat-Zanjani is the latest clerical supporter of the opposition to condemn the desecration of Imam Khomenei's image and the Government's manipulation of the issue.

1640 GMT: So What Did They Say? Oh, to be a fly on the wall: President Ahmadinejad has met both Ali Larijani, Speaker of Parliament, and Sadegh Larijani, head of Iran's judiciary. No details but atmosphere was cordial enough for an official photograph.

1615 GMT: Reformists Alongside Khomeini. Former President Mohammad Khatami, after a strong denial that the opposition would dishonour Ayatollah Khomeini, has upheld the Imam as a standard for the Green movement, saying that it is the duty of religious people to protest.

1550 GMT: Where's Mahmoud? Well, during all the protests and the furour over a possible showdown with opposition leaders, President Ahmadinejad is doing a spot of diplomatic entertaining. He met a Hamas delegation led by the political director, Khaled Meshaal, and declared, "The government and the people of Iran will always stand by the Palestinian resistance and the Palestinian people. Today Palestine is symbol of the global front of freedom-seekers and militants."

NEW Iran Analysis: Sifting the Propaganda – Government About to Arrest Opposition Leaders?
NEW Latest Videos from Iran's Universities (13 December)
NEW Latest Iran Video: Tehran University Protest & Strike (12 December)
Iran Special: Kermit the Frog Re-Mixes “It’s Not Easy Being Green”
Iran: A Renewed Washington Love Affair With The Green Movement?
Iran’s Arrest of Majid Tavakoli: “Khamenei in Hejab/We Are All Majids”
Iran: The Arrest of Majid Tavakoli “His 16 Azar Speech on Video”
Iran: “The Military Will Stand with the Iranian People”? (with Audio)

The Latest from Iran (12 December): Bubbling Under

1535 GMT: Demoting Rafsanjani. According to Tabnak, Islamic Republic News Agency employees have been directed to use the clerical title "Hojatoleslam" when referring to Hashemi Rafsanjani. "Hojjatoleslam" is lower in rank than "Ayatollah", the previous title for the former President.

1350 GMT: Undaunted? Videos are coming through from protests at Iranian universities. We already have four campuses in the collection we've posted, and more may emerge during the afternoon. At Tehran University, Green demonstrators are facing a counter-protest from Basij students who are declaring a three-day sit-in. Security forces have surrounded the university.

1320 GMT: Revising the Threat Assessment. Mr Smith is walking me through the video of the Supreme Leader's speech, and he has a more ominous reading of this as a warning:

[Khamenei] is quite openly saying that the opposition "shall be wiped out". You can chalk this up as a prelude to any sort of harsh measure against the opposition.

This was a "make my day" speech, and one that quite bluntly asked the opposition leaders to back off and shut up. As a challenge, it ranks with the June 19 speech, if not even more emphatic than that.

To my query, "Is this then an ultimatum to the opposition not to make trouble during Moharram (beginning this Friday?", Mr Smith replies, "I think the gist is, shut up, don't make trouble during Tasua and Ashura (26-27 December)."

1230 GMT: Putting the Threats Together, But....? The Associated Press has picked up on a warning on the website of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, linking the "burning of Khomeini" story to the prospect of arrests: ''The Guard ... won't tolerate any silence or hesitation in the immediate identification, trial and punishment of those carrying out this ugly insult and the agents behind them."

Which still leaves the question of whether the threat will be carried. Reuters is the first "Western" agency to note the Supreme Leader's speech (see 1030 GMT) but misses the passage that we noted --- "keep your calm" --- indicating that drastic action will not take place.

1030 GMT: Wow, We Couldn't Predict This. Speaking this morning, the Supreme Leader declared, "[Our] enemies' groundwork is sedition and our groundwork should be strengthening perception and vision. Some people breached law and encouraged people to stand against regime. As a result,our desperate enemies got hope and insulted our Imam."

Now, are there arrests to follow the rhetoric? Here's a hint from Khamenei that there won't be: "Following insult to Imam Khomeieni, people became angry; but keep your calm, these people are rootless and can't confront [us]."

Instead, the Supreme Leader issued a "Back Off" message to Washington, as well as playing the "foreign intervention" card, "The President of USA declared that each Government that break laws must be accountable, but USA's governement is the biggest lawbreaker in world."

0830 GMT: News this morning is dominated by the rumours of a Government crackdown on the opposition, including the arrest of Green leaders. We have posted an analysis sifting through the propaganda and confusion to assess the likelihood that the regime will make an ultimate move.

Discussion also continues about the immediate background for the latest rumours, the battle over the alleged burning of the image of Imam Khomeini. EA reader Naj offers an analysis of the Government's propaganda strategy on  the blog Neo-Resistance.

Meanwhile, if you want a diversion from the internal tension, there is always the posturing over the nuclear discussions. The US has issued a summary rejection of Iran's proposal, put by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki yesterday, for a "swap" of uranium inside the country: "Iran's proposal does not appear to be consistent with the fair and balanced draft agreement proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency." The pro forma No does not mean, however, that the discussions have been closed.

Mottaki and the US have also swapped blows over their political power plays in Latin America. After Hillary Clinton's unsubtle warning to Latin American countries not to engage with Iran, the world's top supporter of terrorism, Mottaki took the high ground, "We condemn such attitudes which violate values of the third millennium."

The Latest from Iran (11 December): Ripples and then Ruptures?

2200 GMT: Burning Khomeini's Picture? All day long, we have been following Iran state media's exploitation of a video allegedly showing the burning of Ayatollah Khomeini's  picture during the 16 Azar protests. (At one point, the top four stories on Fars News' website were devoted to the supposed incident.) Readers may recall that we had posted the video in question on Monday but pulled it after two hours because we thought it may have been staged, possibly as a disinformation ploy to discredit the opposition.

Tonight Mir Hossein Mousavi has issued this statement:
Those who respect me would never allow the slightest insult to Imam Khomeini and they always respect him. I am sure that the students would never do such a defiant act....I don’t have the information if this event happened or not, additionally there is no clear information about those who committed this act, but if such an event really happened, it is a suspicious act and showing such an anti-revolutionary footage from the national TV was wrong.

It would be expected from those foreign media who are hostile toward the Islamic Republic to take advantage of such event and broadcast the footage but showing this footage on the national TV that owes its very existence to the revolution that was won with the leadership of Imam Khomeini, is not acceptable at all.

2040 GMT: Some Friday-Night Posturing. Continuing the thump-thump-thump of American rhetorical pressure on Iran over the nuclear negotiations (see separate entry), as well as trying to keep Tehran out of America's backyard, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid it on thick in a press conference:


Really? You've spent all week telling the world that Afghan-Pak-istan is harbouring the Al Qa'eda menace, and it's Iran that is #1 Terrorist supporter? I understand it's power politics, but try to keep it believable.

Tehran, meanwhile, is doing its own posing, this time in the Middle East:
Iran and Syria have signed an agreement to improve defense cooperation as the two sides are faced with “common enemy and challenges.”

The agreement was signed between Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi and his Syrian counterpart Lt. General Ali Mohammad Habib Mahmoud in Damascus on Friday.

2025 GMT: Parliament, the Guards, and "Questionable" Financial Arrangements. This in from an EA source in Iran:
On Tuesday, Mr. Omidvar Rezaei, a member of the supervisory committee of the Parliament (and brother of Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei), called the establishment of a new Bank of Iran-Venezuela (following Hugh Chavez's trip to Iran earlier this year) very questionable. Mr. Rezaii said that the political maneuvring of some security organizations in order to participate in the management of this bank is against the economic interests of the country and added that the enemies will interpret these tendencies under the "holy uniform of the 12th Imam soldiers" as abuses, and it will add fire to the rumors that some organizations are transferring all oil money out of the country.

During this meeting, MP Elias Naderan said that a company called Mehr Iran belonging to the Revolutionary Guards has been established in Venezuela with a billion dollar investment in visual networks and this is inappropriate because of current situation in the country.

1845 GMT: A Friday Treat. It seems that Kermit the Frog has updated his "It's Not Easy Being Green" to take account of the last six months in Iran. We've got the video.

1835 GMT: Here's Your Medal, As For Your Rights.... The Norwegian and Swedish Foreign Ministers said yesterday that Iranian authorities have returned the Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma of lawyer and activist Shirin Ebadi; however, they added:
Her situation continues to be serious. Ms Ebadi is prevented from working as a defender of human rights in her home country and the Iranian authorities have closed the Defenders of Human Rights Centre of which she was co-founder. The confiscation of the medal and the numerous threats directed at her, her family and her colleagues give cause for great concern and are yet another example of the worsened human rights situation in Iran since the election in June this year.

Norway and Sweden urge the Iranian authorities to allow Ms Ebadi’s safe return to Iran and to allow the Defenders of Human Rights Centre to reopen so that she can resume her important work for human rights in the country.

NEW Iran Special: Kermit the Frog Re-Mixes “It’s Not Easy Being Green”
Iran: A Renewed Washington Love Affair With The Green Movement?
Iran’s Arrest of Majid Tavakoli: “Khamenei in Hejab/We Are All Majids”
Iran: The Arrest of Majid Tavakoli “His 16 Azar Speech on Video”
Iran: “The Military Will Stand with the Iranian People”? (with Audio)
Breaking News: Khamenei Wins 2009 “Dictator of Year”
Iran Analysis: Are Rafsanjani and National Unity Plan “Spent Forces”?
The Latest from Iran (10 December): Reading the Chessboard

1625 GMT: Your Friday Prayer Summary. Hojatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi taking care of business today and, according to Press TV, he was not too fussed about 16 Azar. For Seddiqi, it's all about the nukes:

The Iranian nation will never give up its nuclear right at any price. [The West] cannot prevent us from using nuclear energy for peaceful aims by lies and propaganda....The enemy will concede another defeat in this propaganda war.

1605 GMT: Hmm, those Anti-16 Azar Rallies.... Not quite sure how significant they are. Fars News so far only has an item on a march in Rasht. The Islamic Republic News Agency has a lengthier piece on a gathering after Friday Prayers complaining about the alleged burning of Imam Khomeini's picture by opposition protesters. For unknown reasons, IRNA has blurred the photograph of those who were supposedly involved in today's rally.

1455 GMT: The Anti-16 Azar Rallies? Iranian state television is reporting that "thousands" of pro-Government students have demonstrated in Tehran and other cities after Friday prayers. They reportedly chanted, "Down with the U.S." and "Down with Israel" and read out statements saying the opposition could not "achieve their miserable aims by insulting" the Supreme Leader.

1430 GMT: An inspection team from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Iran on Thursday for its third visit to the "second enrichment plant" at Fordoo near Qom.

1100 GMT: Interpreting the Attack on Rafsanjani. EA correspondent Mr Azadi thinks that Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi's criticism of Hashemi Rafsanjani on Thursday marks the renewal of President Ahmadinejad's battle with Rafsanjani, even though the Supreme Leader has warned against such a conflict:
It appears that the pro-Ahmadinejad newspapers, sites, and clerics are attacking Rafsanjani not only to limit his political influence but to provoke him to oppose the Supreme Leader. But Ayatollah Khamenei has emphasised his respect for Rafsanjani. The defense of Rafsanjani by the Friday Prayer Leader in Mashaad, Ayatollah Alamalhuda, was due in part to the Supreme Leader's approach.

Now with Moslehi’s speech, it seems that the crisis between Ahmadinejad and Hashemi is in a new stage. Indeed, in giving the speech, he appears to have opposed the Supreme Leader.

Moslehi criticised Hashemi Rafsanjani for two reasons: 1) Rafsanjani's views on the election result and post-election events, including his support of leaders of the Green movement and demand for the release of political prisoners; 2) Rafsanjani's recent speech in Mashhad, which Moslehi portrayed as asserting that the Supreme Leader's ultimate authority (Velayat-e-Faqih) exists only as long as it is supported by the people.

Jomhoori Islami newspaper, backing Rafsanjani, immediately responded by publishing his book in which he analysed velayat-e-faqih.

1000 GMT: We've converted a lengthy update on developments in the US media, President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize speech, and American statements on sanctions into a separate entry, "A Renewed Washington Love Affair With The Green Movement?"

0915 GMT: So much for a quiet Friday. Although it is the Iranian weekend, a series of developing and breaking stories has churned political waters. There is excitement, concern, and uncertainty as people try to assess whether those ripples will spread and strengthen. And all of this is occurring as we move into the week before the sacred month of Moharram.

The Government contributed to the tension yesterday, turning Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi loose in a frontal assault on former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Moslehi told student clerics in Qom (and, yes, the choice of venue and audience is significant, given that the religious community is split over the post-12 June actions of the Government), “[Mr Rafsanjani] believes if people do not accept the velayat-e-faghih [the rule of the Supreme Leader], he has to step down." Moslehi also sustained the ongoing warning that Rafsanjani's son Mehdi Hashemi faces prosecution for stirring of post-election conflict.

From the opposition, the arrest of student leader Majid Tavakoli on 16 Azar is spurring new forms of protest. The regime's attempt to humiliate Tavakoli by displaying him "in disguise as a woman" seems to have backfired, as supporters rally behind Tavakoli by dressing in hejab and posting satirical photographs of the Supreme Leader. The video of the activist's last speech is also racing around the Internet.

The biggest ripple this morning, however, may have come out of the Iranian military. After months of rumours of unhappiness and even divisions over the Government's actions, a letter and audio which is allegedly from eight Army and Air Force regiments, declares that they will "stand with the Iranian people" if violence against dissenters. continues.