2010 GMT: The Birthday Boy's Speech. A big finish to Saturday? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has tried to sell his subsidy cut plan in a nationally-televised interview by emphasising that cuts actually means receiving money.
Fars highlights the President's declaration that support payments of 81,000 tomans (about $80) every month will be paid to those on lower incomes.
IRNA goes another direction, emphasising Ahmadinejad's statement that the 1979 Islamic Revolution was the end of a dark era of history.
Press TV mentions the subsidy statement but prefers to lead with his comparison of Iran's progress --- "We have achieved many feats in agriculture, industry,...and science. We have made a leap. --- with the end of the West: "There is no hope in America and Europe."
1950 GMT: Karroubi Watch. Back from a break to find Mehdi Karroubi's latest statement, addressed to the regime: "If 'sedition' is dead, why do you talk about the dead and don't stop the arrests?"
1700 GMT: Academic Corner. Amidst the Government crackdown on universities, from firing of chancellors and professors to suspension of much of the humanities curriculum, this still seems an extraordinary story.
Reports indicate the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, a leading institution in Iran, has suddenly been dissolved. Khabar Online offers an explanation. It says the decision was taken by Minister of Health Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi and that few Government and University officials were aware it was being considered.
1620 GMT: Economy Watch. Kermanshah MP Jahanbakhsh Amini warns that people are angry about inflation, with prices 4 some goods --- especially food --- rising up to 30%.
1615 GMT: Election Claim of Day. Opposition station RASA TV reports that a Revolutionary Guard poll in the city of Qom less than three weeks before the 2009 election indicated challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi had 59% support.
Only 23% backed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with Mehdi Karroubi third with 16%.
1605 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Bojnourd University professor Hadi Hakim-Shafaei has been sentenced to three years in prison for insulting the Supreme Leader.
1600 GMT: Budget Breakthrough? After weeks of stalemated dispute between Parliament and Government, the Majlis has ratified the general provisions of the 5th Budget Plan with a vote of 131 yes, 44 no, and 17 abstentions among 198 MPs present.
Despite the apparent breakthrough, the approval came from a minority of the Parliament's 290 members, as 98 legislators either cast no vote or were absent from the chamber.
It is estimated that consideration and approval of details will take between two and six weeks. That may be optimistic, given it has taken eight months to get to this point in the process.
1555 GMT: Labour Front. Iran's Free Trade Unions reports that workers at Safa Pipe Rolling Plant have been protesting over two months of unpaid wages, with some on hunger strike.
1355 GMT: Corruption Watch. Deutsche Welle follow up the news --- reported on EA earlier this week --- that investigation of fraud cases will be limited on the orders of the Supreme Leader. Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, the head of Iran's state inspectorate, gave the news in a speech at Amir Kabir University on Wednesday.
1305 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Khaje Nasir Uni student activist Ali Parviz has been released from Evin Prison after serving his one-year sentence.
1145 GMT: Khamenei Scorecard. Just been chatting with a Western correspondent about the Supreme Leader's visit to Qom, comparing assessments. My take:
At best, a partial PR victory for the SL in that he eventually met some of the Grand Ayatollahs (e.g. Javadi Amoli, Safi Golpayegani, Makarem Shirazi). However, others stayed conspicuously away (not just Sane'i but also the important Vahid Khorassani and Bayat Zanjani, who thumbed his nose at SL by saying he had gone to his niece's wedding and visited his Mom). And even some of those who did finally give the SL a photo op (e.g. Safi G) did so only after a lot of pressure and a behind-the-scenes deal.
The PR push may have given SL some boost with the general public --- although I think even that faded before the end of the trip, which fizzled even in state media, and will dissipate amidst economic situation --- but he is no closer to legitimacy with the senior clerics.
An EA correspondent goes farther:
I wouldn't really characterise the trip as a success. At best, he managed to wrestle a couple of relatively high ranking clerics (Makarem and Safi) into visiting him several days into the trip. The timing is of relevance, because real deference would have been exhibited had the two visited him on the very first day, which was widely picked up by state media.
Most of the latter days of the trip consisted in trips to martyrs' families. One was really bizarre in that photos showed a wheelchaired old woman with a ready-made script in form of handwritten paper in front of her, probably indicating that the visit by Khamenei to her house was stage-managed and accurately rehearsed prior to his arrival.
And of course, no mention of the really senior marjas (Khorasani, Sanei, Bayat, and others) visiting him. I also haven't heard anything regarding a visit by [the leading cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah] Sistani's official representative in Qom, Javad Shahrestani, but this needs verification.
0615 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. RAHANA claims that Kurdish poet Behzad Kurdistani is in serious condition because of "severe pressure to confess".
Families of political detainees have issued a statement declaring that basic human rights are "shamelessly and openly violated".
0610 GMT: Academic Corner. Some helpful advice from Grand Ayatollah Javadi Amoli, speaking to professors: universities don't become Islamic by separating men and women and establishing prayrooms; they must be completely Islamicised.
0600 GMT: Friday Prayers Meets Subsidy Cuts. Nice to see that Iran's clerics have such an interest in economics.
At Tehran's Friday Prayers, Ayatollah Emami Kashani cited meticulous planning, cooperation between the three branches of government, and the nation’s endurance as prerequisites for a successful introduction of the subsidy cuts.
A bit of hedging in Emami Kashani's support, however: the subsidy reform plan was "a great move and would serve national interests" if it is "implemented effectively".
0555 GMT: Nothing to Do With Subsidy Cuts At All. Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia said that, from Saturday morning, units will be permanently installed at 2000 locations in the capital, fulfilling the "district-centered plan" demanded by the people.
Ah, that's all right then. Silly me thought the deployment of forces might have something to do with the possible reaction to introduction of subsidy cuts.
0550 GMT: Fashion Watch. Hussein Allah-Karam, a leading member of the paramilitary Ansar-e Hizbullah, has warned that if no steps are taken against "bad hijab", Hizbullah will carry out "anarchist actions".
0540 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Singapore said Friday that it will tighten trade with Iran from November, in line with United Nations sanctions, to curb "illicit diversions of strategic controlled goods".
0530 GMT: The University Dorm Attacks. Masih Alinejad interviews a student who was in the Tehran University dormitories when they were raided by security forces on 14-15 June 2009. He confirms, via the story of a close friend, that students --- rather than the attackers --- are being arrested over the incident.
0525 GMT: Not Too Many Legal Rights, Please. The head of Iran's judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, unveiled his own present for detainees. He told members of Parliament that the right of appeal needs to be limited.
And Larijani also said he might have another gift for leaders of the opposition: he indicated that a bill covering "political crimes" is being drafted.
0515 GMT: What better way to start a Saturday than to offer birthday wishes to a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Tehran.
We're a bit late: Ahmadinejad's special day was on Friday, and the US State Department has already sent greetings via Twitter. Spokesman Philip Crowley did the honours, "Your 54th year was full of lost opportunities. Hope in your 55th year you will open Iran to a different relationship with the world." Crowley added, "Celebrate by sending Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer home. "What a gift that would be."
Hmm, Crowley may have forgotten that on a birthday, it is traditional to give someone gifts. So what would Mahmoud like from the US? Maybe a deal on uranium enrichment so the not-so-nice present of sanctions --- and mention of human rights issues, including the detention of the US hikers --- will just go away?