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The Latest from Iran (20 September): A Quieter Monday --- So Far

1915 GMT: Clerical Challenge. Ayatollah Bayat Zanjani, in his latest criticism of the Government, has said that Iran's main problem today is the lack of tolerance for opposition votes and opinions. He added that "unfortunately" religions are abused to confront civilisations and people instead of supporting dialogue and rapprochement.

1900 GMT: Fact-Checking. Earlier we cast some doubt on the President's ability to tell the truth. Looks like his 1st Vice President might also need some help....

Mohammad Reza Rahimi, on the eve of scheduled subsidy cuts, has said that inflation is single-digit (official rate 10,4%) and rice is imported only to cover deficiencies (Iran's heavy imports of rice and sugar have led to widespread bankruptcy of domestic producers).

Meanwhile Iran's banking experts have called published inflation data "an insult to people's intelligence". One said, "You have to add 15% due to subsidy cuts to the official rate of 10%."

1850 GMT: Parliament v. President. Reformist Emad Afrough strikes back at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "I Rule" statement with a call to fellow legislators to get tough.

Afrough said it is a reality that the Majlis is not at the head of affairs, even though it should be and would be had it not retreated from its rights in many cases. He calls on the Parliament to demand "why Ahmadinejad talks like this and why he falsifies Imam Khomeini's words" about the need for an Iranian legislature to prevent government becoming a dictatorship.

It's not just reformists speaking out. Key conservative Hossein Sobhani-Nia has also said that Khomeini's injunction is "not temporary" and announced that a joint Majlis-Government-Guardian Council commission on the legal powers of the three bodies will discuss Ahmadinejad's latest statement. 

On the clerical front, Isfahan Friday Prayers leader Mohammad Taghi Rahbar has warned that no one should "freely interpret" Khomeini's words, for what he said about the government and Majlis was "still valid". Isfahan's head of seminary Ayatollah Mazaheri declared that "insults against the Majlis are not acceptable".

1830 GMT: Khatami's Warning. Former President Mohammad Khatami has told students at Tehran University that the only way to Iran's salvation is full establishment of the Islamic Republic.

Khatami warned that the "eliminatory current", which got rid of reformists and some hardliners on the pretext of defending the Revolution, will also stand up against the Supreme Leader and the Iranian system.

1730 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Hamid Mohseni, the head of Mir Hossein Mousavi's office, has called his family for the first time since he was detained on 12 September.

1705 GMT: Gasoline Squeeze. The Azerbaijani website Trend offers an explanation, complete with figures, exposing the recent claims of Iranian officials of "self-sufficiency" in the production of gasoline.

Data and analysts point to two reasons why Iran is coping in the short term with forced reductions in imports: 1) stricter enforcement of the rations of subsidised gasoline and 2) "hoarding" of supplies between March 2009 and March 2010. GMT: Execution Watch. EA saw a report on Sunday that Hossein Derakhshan --- Iran's "Blogfather" --- had received a death sentence.

We did not post the claim because of lack of corroboration, but we now have reason to believe that the prosecutor has asked for the death penalty. There is also concern over the hard-line reputation of the presiding official, Judge Salavati.

Derakhshan, one of the earliest Iran bloggers and an Iranian-Canadian dual national, was detained and later charged with espionage when he returned from Canada in 2008.

1630 GMT: Ahmadinejad Lied. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran forcefully echoes a point we made in our morning analysis, "Mahmoud's Sideshow in New York", when it declares, "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lied outright about the stoning sentence of Sakineh Ashtiani during an interview with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour on 19 September, by denying a stoning sentence was ever issued, despite well-documented evidence to the contrary."

The ICHRI publishes the appeal against the execution by stoning, filed by Ashtiani's lawyer Houtan Kian with the Supreme Court on 7 July 2010. There is also an English translation of the document.

The ICHRI also notes Ahmadinejad's denial of a sharp rise executions under his Presidency.

Amanpour relied on Amnesty International’s annual reports that documented 86 executions in 2005, when Ahmadinejad was first elected, and at least 388 in 2009. Ahmadinejad declared in response, “How do they know? They haven’t come to Iran.”

1330 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Following EA's feature today "Top Tehran Analysts: 'Sanctions Are Working'", we note this from Washington....

Senior US Treasury official Stuart Levey has stated that Iran is struggling with the international sanctions aimed at its nuclear programme, with pressure mounting on its economy and banking sector.

Levey said, "The financial measures the U.S. and others around the world are implementing are imposing serious costs and constraints on Iran. We believe Iran's leadership was caught off guard by the speed, intensity and scope of the new measures, misjudging the strength of the international community's will."

Levey said the pressure on Iran was "creating leverage for diplomacy".

"We are already receiving reports that the (Iranian) regime is quite worried about the impact of these measures, especially on their banking system and on the prospects for economic growth," he added.

0930 GMT: The Conservatives v. The President. Planet Iran picks up on the conservative counter-attack against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim that the Parliament is subordinate to his authority.

The website features the remarks of Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and his high-profile ally Ahmad Tavakoli, posting this extract from Larijani's speech in Isfahan on Sunday: “If Imam Khomeini said the Majlis has full authority, it was to prevent the re-emergence of dictatorship in Iran.”

Larijani added that the Parliament, the judiciary, and the executive branch are independent of each other: “these bodies have been designed in a way to administer justice in the country. The Majles must oversee the active governance of the country, in case the government deviates from its course.”

0800 GMT: We're off on academic business in London for much of today. Ali Yenidunya will be minding the EA shop, and we are looking to our top reporters --- EA's readers --- to provide news and comments.

0745 GMT: Have Your Say! Press TV reports, from the Islamic Republic News Agency, that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's official website is conducting a public opinion poll for his United Nations speech.

Among the topics proposed by the President's staff for feedback are "injustice in the UN structure and the right of veto, discriminative sanctions, Iran's peaceful nuclear program, human rights violation in Western countries, nuclear disarmament, and ongoing crises in Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan".

Somehow, anything to do with life within Iran did not make the list; however, there is an interesting paragraph on the President's website about his interview with ABC News's Christiane Amanpour:

Dr. Ahmadinejad, responding to a question regarding some news on the probability of a frame-up against Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi [i.e., a "coup" in the 2009 election and measures against the opposition], remarked that, although some anti-government protesters and my political opponents committed some extensive offences during the past year, all of them are at large. They spread these opinions through the media that are available to them, and there is no one disturbing them. If there has a frame-up been against them, this case should have been presented last year. 

0735 GMT: Diplomatic Encounter. One Sunday setpiece in New York, with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meeting President Ahmadinejad.

At their public appearance, Ban called on Ahmadinejad to "engage constructively" with the international community in negotiations over Iran's uranium enrichment. He also emphasised "the importance of respecting fundamental freedoms and political rights" in Iran.

0725 GMT: It was an unexpectedly busy weekend. There was the political drama of Mehdi Karroubi's letter to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, effectively saying that the Supreme Leader should take control of Iran's political and legal situation (i.e., take control of his out-of-control President and his allies) or face the challenge of removal. There was the growing conservative response to President Ahmadinejad's brazen "I Rule" statement. And there was the "bonus" of the false report --- Who started it? Why? --- that Iran had captured seven US troops infiltrating across the Afghanistan border.

So today seems very quiet. We have a special feature on "Mahmoud's New York Sideshow", which is likely to dominate non-Iranian headlines today. Indeed, given that the President is hoping to use his media and UN appearances to display authority to grumblers back home, it should be at the top of Iranian press coverage.

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