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The Latest from Iran (26 December): The (Dis)Unity of Elections
Tajzadeh, a former Deputy Minister of Interior, cited the need "to counter lies, corruption, and ineptitude" and "to prevent the establishment of an absolute dictatorship" as well "to control and eradicate poverty, unemployment, and crime". Among reasons not to participate, he mentioned the June 2009 "election coup" putting President Ahmadinejad back in office, the re-appointment of Ayatollah Jannati as head of the Guardian Council supervising the elections, the "illegal involvement of military and security forces", "the illegal house arrest" of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the suspension of reformist parties.
Yazdi, the head of the Freedom Movement of Iran, was arrested briefly after the disputed June 2009 Presidential election and again in September 2010 for an "illegal prayer meeting".
The contract is a much-needed boost for Iran, whose oil markets have been shrinking --- and could shrink much more --- amidst US-led sanctions.
1550 GMT: Threat of the Day. First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi has guaranteed himself headlines in international media with the declaration, made in State news outlet IRNA, "If they (the West) impose sanctions on Iran's oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz."
Rahimi's statement comes amidst a 10-day exercise by Iranian naval units to show their strength in regional waters.
Workers House carries out labour-related activities, and Mahjoub has raised some of those issues in Parliament. Last week, he called for a "responsible" social insurance organization.
Although Workers House is often seen as being in line with the reformist position, Mahjoub distinguished his stance on the campaign from that of reformists, many of whom have said they will not stand, “I am not the spokesman of reformists. I just see that it is my right to participate in election, so I did it. I believe people participation in the Parliamentary election will be good, like all the elections which were held after the Islamic revolution.”
Mahjoub said stated that another member of Workers House, Soheila Jelodarzadeh, would also file as a candidate.
1230 GMT: Subsidy Cuts Watch. Equality, cost-cutting exercise, or both? Mohammad Reza Farzin, the head of Iran's subsidy cuts organisation, has said the 10 million wealthiest Iranians will be omitted from support payments to cover higher prices from subsidy cuts.
1109 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syria Front). Khabar Online has published the names of seven Iranians abducted in Syria last week. Almost all are electrica. engineers of the Parsian Power Industrial Technology and Development Company.
1105 GMT: The Battle Within. The pro-Ahmadinejad head of Iran's Culture, Heritage, and Tourism Organization, Rouhollah Ahmadzadeh, has warned Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, that the President "is ready to reveal secrets" if he continues to come under attack.
1100 GMT: Book Corner. Rah-e Sabz reports that 100 bookshops have been shut down within the past year in Tehran, with vendors on Karim Khan Street, the famous thoroughfare for book-lovers, appealing to Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf to support the cultural sphere.
1030 GMT: Corruption Watch. Key MP Ahmad Tavakoli maintains his now-daily challenge to President Ahmadinejad over "corruption", with his website Alef publishing his answers to students about the "origins and consequences" of the $2.6 billion bank fraud.
1025 GMT: Spy Watch. The initial court session of Iranian-American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, accused of spying for the US, has been held this morning before hard-line Judge Abulfazl Salavati in Tehran's Revolutionary Court. The prosecution reportedly asked for the death penalty.
Hekmati, reportedly detained in September, was presented on State TV earlier this month "confessing" to an attempt to infiltrate Iran's intelligence services.
Fars claimed that Hekmati told the court, "I was deceived by the CIA....Although I was appointed to break into Iran's intelligence systems and act as a new source for the CIA, I had no intention of undermining the country."
1020 GMT: The Battle Within (Literally). Behrouz Moradi, the manager of the Ahmadinejad Government's subsidy cuts, has reportedly been thrown out of the Parliament by Speaker Ali Larijani after he allegedly insulted and assaulted MPs.
1010 GMT: War Games Watch. You may have wonder what happened to the 10-day naval exercise, begun Saturday by Iran's military, which briefly prompted Very Scary Headlines in Western media.
To be honest, the effort has fizzled a bit from the anticipation of the headlines. The highlight on Monday, from a senior Iranian commander, was that the navy had warned off a foreign helicopter that approached the site of the exercise: “When the helicopter saw the resoluteness of our units and [our] determination to take the next measures, it was forced to leave the region promptly and observe the safe distance.”
Commodore Amir Rastegari added that Iran's navy was prepared to hold joint military drills with regional countries, presumably to scare off more helicopters and "to provide security for the entire region". Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said it was all "a message of peace and friendship" for Iran's neighbours.
1000 GMT: Elections Watch. Monday's good-news announcement came from Minister of Interior Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, who said 1020 people had registered to be candidates in Parliamentary elections by noon.
Najjar did not identify the blocs of the candidates and, in particular, how many reformists had defied calls for a boycott to put forward their names for election to the 275-member Majlis.
The rial is still significantly weaker than the 14000:1 level of last week after the Central Bank intervened to halt a sharp drop in the currency's value.
Meanwhile, the US Government has jumped in on the theory --- common among those who watch the currency fluctuation --- that elite groups such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are profiting from the rial's fall.
U.S. Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen told a Senate committee this month that the gap between the Central Bank's "official" rate and the open-market rate provided an arbitrage opportunity exploited by officials and businesses affiliated with the IRGC. These groups could buy dollars at the official rate --- around 10750:1 until this week, when it was raised to 11100:1 --- and then sell dollars at the open-market level of more than 15000:1.
The 39% difference between the official and market rates on 21 December was the largest in almost two decades.
Cohen said, “Ordinary Iranians are urgently seeking out foreign currency such as dollars or euros for safety, yet they are having trouble accessing hard currency, and when they can, they have to pay the unofficial market rate. At the same time, senior government officials and preferred businesses, including IRGC-owned and controlled operations, are able to access foreign exchange at the official rate, essentially engaging in profitable arbitrage on the back of the average Iranian."
US Treasury officials declined to provide Bloomberg News with documentation backing up Cohen’s allegation. However, they did refer to the criticism of leading MP Ahmad Tavakoli, in his outlet Alef that the gap between the rates “will lead to massive undue incomes at the expense of the nation’s assets", resulting in the “emergence of a new class of people who will have reached a certain structure through the economy’s muddy waters and the blessings of the [Cenrral Bank]".
0700 GMT: We open this morning with a snap analysis of the latest news over Iran's Parliamentary elections in March, looking in particular at how many reformists will take part and how worried elements within the regime are over the question.
One surprising candidate is Mehdi Khazali, the prominent publisher, cleric, and son of former Guardian Council member Ayatollah Khazali. He filed his papers for candidacy on Monday.
Khazali's blog is critical of the Government, and it has landed him in prison on two occasions since the disputed 2009 Presidential election. He was detained from October 2010 to July 2011 on charges of anti-regime propaganda before being released on $180,000 bail.
Khazali was quick to give reassurances that he was not defying the call for a boycott of the elections, explaining that he would inevitably be rejected by the Guardian Council from standing.
Iran's union of dairy producers has warned of bankruptcy for many of its members, citing a 16% gap between costs of production prices, up 34%, and the 18% increase in return for their goods.
The warning follows the news of a spike in inflation for dairy products, with a 10% jump in the last week and a 27% rise over the last year. Authorities responded with a 10-day deadline for dairy producers to reduce their prices.
Political Prisoner Watch
Student activist Behrouz Javid Tehrani has been released after seven years in prison.
Javid Tehrani was initially arrested after the July 1999 student protests.