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The Latest from Iran (26 December): The Battle Against the President's Men

1935 GMT: Economy Watch. More on the Parliamentary report criticising the Ahmadinejad Government's handling of the economy (see 1640 GMT)....

The report claims the Government did not transfer $1.58 billion in interest from oil income to the Treasury in 2006 and withheld $2,3 millions interest from gas income to the Treasury in 2007.

1925 GMT: More "Justice". Yet more extracts from the press conference of Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi....

The prosecutor admitted what had already been suspected about the detention last week of economist Fariborz Reisdana: the "crime" of the expert was commenting to BBC Persian about the government's subsidy cuts, calling them a "hallucination" that would not benefit the Iranian people.

On a different front, Doulatabadi confirmed the judiciary's line on the corruption case of 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi: the first set of findings has gone to court and the second is being prepared.

Doulatabadi insisted --- despite the declarations of Ahmadinejad aide Rahim-Mashai defying the judiciary --- that the President welcomed the investigation.

Leading MP Ahmad Tavakoli, an ally of Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, has repeated his claim that the judiciary is under pressure to drop the Rahimi case. Tavakoli's allegation is carried in Larijani's Khabar Online.

1735 GMT: Sedition Watch (Clerics Edition). A story that we missed earlier this week....

Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of Kayhan, published an editorial on Wednesday accusing those ayatollahs who recently met with families of political prisoners of being “supporters of seditionists", adding, "Why do some senior clerics, intentionally or not, help the enemies of Islam?”

Shariatmadari made clear that these ayatollahs were “neither sources of emulation nor to be respected”. He claimed to be doing the clerics a "service" by offering a friendly warning from the heart, “supported by clear documents and evidence”.

So is Shariatmadari, who is nominally the Supreme Leader's representative on the newspaper, reflecting the views of Ayatollah Khamenei?

1640 GMT: Economy Watch. A Parliament report says only 13% of "privatised" interests have actually gone to private concerns.

Many of the state interests that have been sold have gone to consortia connected with groups such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

1625 GMT: Showdown Warning. Tehran Prosecutor General Doulatabadi also said the trial of the "leaders of sedition" is not far off and will happen at an appropriate time.

Leading politicians have called for the arrest of opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, but head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani has drawn a line --- so far --- against the calls for prosecution.

1554 GMT: Un-Free Press. Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has said six staff of the reformist newspaper Shargh, arrested earlier this month, are being charged with "activities against national security".

Doulatabadi added that journalist Nazin Khosravani is being charged with activities against national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.

1550 GMT: Terrorism Confusion. It looks like Iranian officials are pulling back from their claim, made earlier this week, that Pakistan had arrested Abdolraouf Rigi, whom they had succeeded his brother Abdolmalek Rigi as head of the Jundullah insurgent group.

Minister of Interior Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said Pakistani authorities had neither confirmed nor denied the arrest.

Brigadier General Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan of the Iranian Army said the claim was a rumour although “Pakistan's police have promised to arrest him and cooperate [with us] in this regard."

1540 GMT: Quick, Look Over There! On the day that Iranian officials have delayed the execution of Kurdish prisoner Habibollah Latifi, Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi said a suspect has been condemned for carrying out espionage for Israel: "The spy has been sentenced to death....[His] identity will be announced after approval of the verdict" by Iran's Supreme Court.

Dowlatabadi said three more cases were under review by the Iranian judiciary.

1530 GMT: Diplomatic Suggestion. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the key member of Parliament's National Security Commission, has called on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to select a permanent nominee for the post of Foreign Minister.

According to the law, the President has 3 months to choose a nominee for a minister, but Boroujerdi said that, due to the sensitivity of the Ministry’s activities, the nomination should be announced sooner.

Ahmadinejad unexpectedly fired Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on 13 December, naming Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's atomic energy organisation, as acting Foreign Minister. Boroujerdi, a former Deputy Foreign Minister, said Salehi would be suitable as a permanent appointment.

1240 GMT: International Front. Afghan Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim has said that Iran will allow fuel tankers to cross into Afghanistan. "We discussed the fuel tankers which have been stopped at the border and agreements were reached (to allow them) to enter Afghanistan, so that the fuel problem is resolved," Fahim said at a press conference in Tehran.

Over the last three weeks, Iran has blocked around 1,600 trucks from crossing the border, claimed that they are being used to supply US-led troops in Afghanistan. Afghan officials say the fuel was for houses, businesses, and commercial aircraft.

1220 GMT: Diplomatic Gesture. The rebuke to the President over his dismissal of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki continues: 260 of Iran's 290 members of Parliament have issued a statement expressing hope that Mottaki's capabilities would still be used in service to the Islamic Republic.

1135 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Civil rights activists Hojatoleslam Nokhostin and Javad Abouali have been detained in Behbahan in western Iran.

Nokhostin and Abouali were seized two weeks ago, charged with distributing Kalameh newspaper and Green Movement CDs.

0820 GMT: Subsidy Cuts Watch (Incentives Edition).The Deputy Minister of Commerce has announced the allocation of $30 million in credits for reconstruction of bakeries.

Last week the price of flour, after the introduction of subsidy cuts, rose up to 3200%. However, bakeries were only allowed to increase the price of bread by 200%.

0744 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Religious scholar Ahmad Ghabel has been freed on bail.

On 15 December, Ghabel was sentenced to 20 months in prison for working against the Iranian system and insulting the Supreme Leader. He has been in detention for almost six months.

0740 GMT: Economy Watch. Leading economist Saeed Laylaz has said that the changes promised by Government subsidy cuts will not attract foreign investment,  as Iran has not solved its diplomatic problems with the world.

0715 GMT: We will be monitoring the latest news on the delayed execution of Kurdish prisoner Habibollah Latifi in a separate entry

Meanwhile, some interesting political news emerged on Saturday. Principlist MP Ahmad Tavakoli, a leader of the challenge to the Ahmadinejad Government, offered a lengthy interview to Ayande News on the corruption charges against 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi.

The Iranian judiciary announced this week that Rahimi's file, which includes allegations of involvement in a major insurance fraud, would be sent to courts. On Saturday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's right-hand-man, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, defied the judiciary, the President would make his own decisions.

Tavakoli's response? The MP said that Rahimi's trial would strengthen the government as it would show the adherence of the President and his advisors to the law.

A new front in the battle opened on Saturday, as Hojatoleslam Mehdi Salek, speaking for the conservative Society of Combatant Clergy, criticised Rahim-Mashai for statements that were contrary to religious principles.

Salek asserted that "Wahhabites", a reference to hard-line Sunni Muslim, would profit from Rahim-Mashai's presentation of an "Iran School" in contrast to an Islamic model. On social issues, he said that Rahim Mashai's chiding of clerics for not allowing "immoral" music was an "insult 2 all in the ulema" of religious scholars. 

And the discontent over the dismissal of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, which took place almost three weeks ago, rumbles on: a hard-line faction has said the President should offer compensation for his "unusual and unconventional" methods in firing Mottaki while the Foreign Minister was on a state visit to Senegal.

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