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The Latest from Iran (6 March): Catching Up with the Regime and Rafsanjani

2000 GMT: A Right Nuclear Mess. Looks like Iran has got itself in a real tangle over its first nuclear plant at Bushehr.

Last week reports emerged that Iran was having to withdraw fuel rods from Bushehr, opened last autumn, because of unspecified technical problems.

Although there was some discussion of whether the difficulty was the Stuxnet computer worm, allegedly introduced by the "West" and/or Israel into software running the plant, the issue might have stopped there. But then Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast on Tuesday denied reports that any fuel has been removed, saying operations at the facility "are running their normal course."

And now the deputy head of Parliament's Energy Commission, Abdollah Kaabi, has given the nuclear tension another stir with accusations against Moscow, contradicting the Foreign Ministry line that all is well. Kaabi said Saturday, “If Russia continues to delay the inauguration of Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) will definitely table a motion to demand compensation from Moscow.”

Kaabi said the Russians had always been “unreliable partners in the course of history”, causing “unacceptable” delays in the project and imposing heavy costs on Iran.

1950 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist Parsa Bahmani was arrested in Shiraz during Tuesday's protests.

1945 GMT: The Supreme Leader and the Arrests. The Guardian of London is the first mainstream outlet, to our knowledge, to note the claims that Ayatollah Khamenei's senior advisor Vahid Haghanian oversaw the transfer of Mehdi and Fatemeh Karroubi from house arrest to detention.

EA brought out the story, which was first published in Karroubi's Saham News yesterday.

1940 GMT: Transport Watch. Former Vahab Darvish, a former commander of the engineering section of Iran's police, has become the Chief Executive Office of the Tehran Metro.

Darvish replaces Mohsen Hashemi, the son of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who resigned this weekend over bureaucratic restrictions on his ability to run the system.

1915 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Rah-e-Sabz reports that several clerics have been arrested in Khorasan Province in northeastern Iran.

1440 GMT: Clarification. Trying to understand the manoevures of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani's son Mehdi Hashemi, who has reportedly been meeting figures across the Iranian political spectrum in London and in Paris, I garbled the story this morning (see 0640 GMT). So let's try to get it right about Professor Hooshang Amirahmadi, the US-based academic who met Hashemi in London.

Soon after the June 2009 Presidential election, Amirahmadi co-authored an article with Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter who has been an advocate of American intervention to change "dangerous" regimes. They concluded: "This time, those who pose a true alternative to theocracy, the secular Iranians, must find ways to unite, make their voices heard and their clout felt. The next time, when Iranians are ready to say no, they may get it right."

Despite this criticism, the regime still invited Amirahmadi to a high-profile conference of Iranian expatriates in Tehran last summer. Amirahmadi attended the three-day gathering, which was addressed by President Ahmadinejad and other senior officials.

Last week, reviewing the revival of opposition protest on 14 February, Amirahmadi wrote:

The February 14th protests have created a breathing space for the New Right (mainly a coalition of young Islamic radicals and the base class), which is also supported by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the security-military forces under his command. Interestingly, leaders of the New Right have not joined the Traditional Right in calling for revenge against the Green leaders. Ironically, it was originally the protest against “the election fraud” by the New Right that led to the anti-establishment movement. Convinced that the Greens have split and its leaders are neutralized, the New Right is positioning itself to attract the reformist Greens for the next presidential elections. That strategy may prove not an illusion....

What happens next will depend on the Supreme Leader. He should not allow the ultra-right groups to destroy the faithful Greens, including their leaders. Instead, he should isolate the extremists on both sides, unite the realistic religious and secular Iranians, and call for national reconciliation. Forming a Constitutional review panel, securing free and fair elections, freeing the innocent political prisoners, and removing some of the social restrictions on women and the younger generations will be steps in the right direction.

Does that statement, a sharp contrast to that made in June 2009, offer a clue to the meeting with Mehdi Hashemi? Indeed, could it have followed the discussion with Hashemi Rafsanjani's son?

1425 GMT: The Arrests. Mardomak reviews the increasing criticism of the regime over the detentions of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi and Fatemeh Karroubi, with new statements from scholars, academics, and workers.

1420 GMT: Economy Watch (Gender Edition). Mardomak summarises the remarks of Iranian official Fatima Moghimi, who says only 13% of adult women are employed.

1415 GMT: Dangerous Literature. An Iranian blogger summarises attacks by conservative websites upon the "sedition" of poets and writers.

1350 GMT: Parliament v. Government. Minister of Energy Majid Namjoo has narrowly avoided impeachment after questioning by the Parliament (see 0845 GMT).

The motion to impeach failed 101-102 with six abstentions and 81 members failing to vote.

In contrast to his approach last month when he snubbed Parliament by refusing appear at the questioning of his Minister of Transportation, who was then forced to resign, President Ahmadinejad attended today's session. He said, “What the lawmakers said indicated how much they care about the country’s affairs....But I hope Mr.Namjou remains in the office."

After the February impeachment of the Minister of Transportation, Ahmadinejad challenged the Parliament's action as "illegal" and said, “I will speak to the Iranian public about the performance of the legislative body.”

0905 GMT: The Next March? Graffiti in Tehran announces 17 Esfand (10 March), when the opposition has called for protests in support of International Women's Day.

0855 GMT: Labour Front. More than 1800 construction workers at Tabriz Petrochemical Complex and hundreds of workers at Tehran's Kian Tyre factory are continuing protests over hiring practices, benefits, wages, an end to child labour, and release of imprisoned labour activists.

0845 GMT: Parliament v. Government. Minister of Energy Majid Namjoo, barring a last-minute effort to withdraw a Parliamentary petition, will be forced today to answer questions over his record.

More than 40 lawmakers have signed the motion for questioning, which could lead to removal of Namjoo if he does not get a vote of confidence. His critics cite weak management, poor planning, discrimination in the ministry, failure to fulfill commitments and promises, failure to implement the Cabinet’s ratifications, technical ineptitude, inappropriate replacement of managers, and long delays in projects for dams, water supply, and wastewater treatment.

Last month Minister of Transport Hamid Behbahani was forced to resign after Parliamentary interrogation.

0730 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Rah-e-Sabz claims reports of mistreatment of those arrested in 14 February protests, now held in Afsarieh Prison.

Afshin Osanloo, the brother of imprisoned trade union activist Mansour Osanloo, has reportedly been seized by plain-clothes forces at Tehran’s Southern Bus Terminal.

Mansour Osanloo has been detained since 2007.

0715 GMT: The Supreme Leader's Man and the Arrests. A Persian-language blog offers details on Vahid Haghanian ("Commander Vahid"), the advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei who allegedly oversaw the move of Mehdi and Fatemeh Karroubi from house arrest to detention on 21 February.

0640 GMT: We return after a break on Saturday to catch up with developments....

Rafsanjani Watch

EA readers offer an important clarification on our story yesterday, taken from Khodnevis that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani's son Mehdi Hashemi, living in self-imposed exile in London, may have met both with opposition figures and with those who are still "acceptable" in Tehran. 

Mehdi Hashemi has indeed seen Hooshang Amirahmadi, a US-backed academic in London who, while critical of the Government during the post-election crisis, has maintained a good relationship to the point where he attended a conference of Iranian expatriates in Tehran, addressed by President Ahmadinejad, in summer 2010. According to the article, Rafsanjani's son often goes to Paris to "influence" opposition advisors such as Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, but there is no confirmation of a specific meeting.

has not yet fulfilled his intention to meet opposition advisor Ardeshir Amir Arjomand in Paris.

There are still no clues as to what Hashemi is hoping to achieve with these discussions. His father faces an important political battle tomorrow and Tuesday, as he tries to hold his leadership of the Assembly of Experts in the face of a candidate, Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani, backed by Ahmadinejad supporters.

The Mahdavi Kani camp claims it has the backing of 50 of 84 Assembly members.

Ahmadinejad Watch

The President's office announces that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spent Saturday morning denouncing destruction, not within Iran's political system but of the environment.

Speaking to the "Wetlands for the Future" forum, Ahmadinejad said the countries which have had the most devastating impact on the lenvironment have never felt committed to reviewing and amending their hazardous methods, reducing pollution. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he singled out the US, "which equaled the destruction done by the rest of the world".

Ahmadinejad called on  the United Nations to set up regulations.

Political Prisoner Watch

RAHANA offers a few details on the detention of Sam Mahmoudi, a journalist for the reformist Shargh newspaper, who was seized during the protests of 14 February.

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