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Tuesday
Jul262011

The Latest from Iran (26 July): Ahmadinejad is a "Repair and Maintenance Project"

2000 GMT: Economy Watch. Despite US-led sanctions, foreign direct investment in Iran rose to a new record in 2010 of more than $3.6 billion dollars, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

UNCTAD's "World Investment Report" found that the foreign direct investment increased around 20% in 2010. FDI has soared from $1.6 billion in 200.

Global FDI flows grew 4.9% in 2010 to $1.24 trillion, but were 15% below the rate of $1.472 trillion before the 2008 financial crisis and nearly 37% below their peak in 2007 of $1.971 trillion.

1715 GMT: All the President's Men. Hassan Nouroozi of Parliament's Article 90 Commission has explained that while discussion of complaints against President Ahmadinejad's Chief of Staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, and Vice President Hamid Baghaei have been postponed, their files are still open.

1710 GMT: Loyalty Watch. Ayatollah Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, has declared that if someone does not believe in velayat-e faqih (clerical supremacy), his/her prayers and fasts will not be accepted.

1330 GMT: The Slain Scientist. Ayande News tries to link the weekend murder of postgraduate student Dariush Rezaeinejad --- initially identified, wrongly, as a Professor of Physics associated with Iran's nuclear programme --- to the Voice of America, including the news programme of Jamshid Chalangi and the satirical show Parazit.

1310 GMT: Energy Watch. More concerns for Iran with reports of a pressure drop in the Assalouyeh gas field....

The field is the largest in the world, shared in the world between Iran and Qatar, and the Qataris have reportedly doubled the rate of withdrawal of gas.

Khabar Online also says there are concerns over supplies in the South Pars field.

1155 GMT: Excuse of the Day. Amidst reports of an escalation of violent crime in Iran, the country's Police Chief Ahmadi Moghaddam has said the increase is because foreign powers are propagating drugs, sex, and violence in the region.

And just to back up the point, Minister of Interior Mostafa Mohammad Najjar told Parliament that Facebook, satellite dishes, and Webchats are the tools of soft war.

1145 GMT: Oil Watch. Following problems with payments by India to Iran for oil shipments, Saudi Arabia has stepped into the potential void by agreeig to sell 3 million barrels more oil to Delhi in August.

"If Iran can't get the payment issues resolved with India, we will send them supplies and we have already alerted them to that," said an advisor to the Saudi regime.

India suspended payments from an Asian currency basket to Tehran in December because of international sanctions. Shipments have continued, but Iranian officials said last week that India's debt was now $5 billion.

1140 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Mohsen Rafighdoost, who is close to the conservative Motalefeh Party, has suggested that the Government may not last to the end of its term in 2013.

1100 GMT: Oil Watch. Masoud Bastani, the head of the Central Bank, has denied a weekend report that China owes Iran $30 billion for oil shipments.

The article, in the Financial Times of London, claimed that Chinese and Iranian officials had opened discussions on a barter system, as payment in currency had been hindered by US-led sanctions.

Bahmani confirmed an earlier report that Iran's official inflation rate had risen to 15.4%, increasing from an annual rate of 14.2% in April/May.

0810 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. On Monday we reported, citing Iranian officials, that actress/filmmaker Pegah Ahangarani had been released on bail after her detention earlier this month. However, later reports indicate that her family still have no confirmation that Ahangarani is free.

0735 GMT: Cartoon of the Day. Iraqi-born Ayatollah Shahroudi, the head of the new arbitration panel set up by the Supreme Leader to rule on disputes among the three branches of Government (see 0530 GMT), has a message in Arabic for the heads of those branches --- President Ahmadinejad, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, and head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani --- "Don't Fight".

0730 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. MP Ali Motahari, leading the drive to interrogate and possibly impeach Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has returned to his campaign, declaring that while some of those behind the effort had withdrawn, more colleagues are ready to sign the petition to question the President.

Motahari apparently had enough signatures last month for interrogation, but the effort was blunted by the opposition of the Board of Parliament and the intervention of the Supreme Leader's office.

0725 GMT: Propaganda Watch. Jahan News tries to maintain pressure on former President Khatami, claiming that he is banned from leaving Iran to see his children in the US and Europe.

0720 GMT: Economy Watch. An Iran-based correspondent for Tehran Bureau offers a snapshot from the country's bazaars:

Consumers are...exposed to exorbitant prices for basic products. For example, a basic cotton bath towel produced in the northeastern city of Tabriz was priced at 23,000 toman, or around $20. When a customer attempted to haggle, the shop owner blamed a confluence of domestic and international pressure for the high price tag. "Before the new year, we experienced 10% inflation because of the subsidy cuts,'" he explained. "The towels are made in Iran, but the cotton comes from either Pakistan or Uzbekistan. The shipments in Pakistan were cut off because of floods, and all of the Uzbek cotton was bought out by China. Iran now has to buy cotton from China at higher prices. Because of all that, we now have 35 percent inflation."

The report of buyers requesting discounts, and vendors refusing them, as each cites economic pressures is now common. The correspondent, however, offers a new insight into the unintended effects of subsidy cuts:

In the adjoining carpet section --- one of the bazaar's traditional cornerstones ---- merchants also complained about higher production costs. The subsidy reforms are taking their toll on the age-old craft of carpet weaving, one merchant said. By handing out monthly $46 per capita cash payments to the population, the government is creating a disincentive for rural-dwelling female carpet weavers, one merchant said. "Some of them have ten children, and with the cash subsidies they can earn up to 500,000 toman per month. With the wages we're used to paying them, it doesn't make sense for them to work. Instead, they're looking to have more children." The merchant did, however, admit that by pushing up wages, the cash handouts were fulfilling their intended purpose of improving carpet weavers' living standards. "It's good for them, but it's a big hit on the price of production," he added.

0715 GMT: In the Classroom. ISNA reports that a new directive bans "Lee trousers" --- the phrase used for all jeans --- in Iranian schools because they are a sign of "negative mentality".

0710 GMT: Clerical Intervention. Grand Ayatollah Bayat Zanjani has issued the pointed declaration that truly Islamic governments do not imprison their critics, as he said the strict house arrests of opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi are is against sharia law.

0640 GMT: Economy Watch. Issa Kalantari, Minister of Agriculture under President Khatami, has declared that "agriculture is dying" with the policies of the current Government. He also claimed pension funds are on the verge of bankruptcy as the economy deteriorates.

0630 GMT: Elections Watch. The question of reformist involvement in next March's Parliamentary elections simmers, as several prominent reformists have accused Iranian media of falsely putting their names on a 20-person list endorsing participation.

The reformists said they were standing on the demands of former President Mohammad Khamati for the fulfillment of conditions for participation, including the freeing of political prisoners, free and fair elections, restoration of political parties, and adherence to the Constitution.

One reformist, Nasrollah Torabi, made his position clear yesterday, "If the military continues to interfere and threaten, there is no motivation for people to participate in elections."

Khabar Online publishes a list of 46 MPs who may not be able to run for re-election in 2012 because they do not have postgraduate degrees.

Earlier this year the 290-member Majlis passed legislation requiring that members have at least a Master's qualification.

0605 GMT: Opposing the Military Option. In a 38-page report, 35 prominent Iranians inside the country --- most of them opponents of the regime --- argue that military action against Iran would lead to further political repression, enmity between the Iranian people and the US, and severe humanitarian problems.

The authors, who include human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, journalists, writers, cultural figures, and members of the political opposition, contend that a military strike, even based on human rights violations, would not lead to a change in the Iranian system. One journalist commented, “A foreign military attack would lead to many of the [Green] movement’s rank-and-file shifting their support to the same government they currently oppose.”

0600 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Maryam Bigdeli, women's rights activist and member of the One Million Signatures Campaign to end discriminatory laws, has been ordered to serve out her prison term.

Bigdeli was arrested in May 2009 with Fatemeh Masjedi, another women's rights activist, for "propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and sentenced to six months in prison and a $2000 fine. She challenged her sentence, but a court has rejected her argument that the One Million Signatures campaign is legal.

Masjedi was also arrested last January and released after serving six months in prison.

0530 GMT: On a Monday of steady news of the manoeuvres of political factions --- conservatives, principlists, reformists, the President, the Supreme Leader --- the most intriguing reports were of an effort to "contain" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Jafar Shojouni, a member of the Combatant Clergy Association, put it bluntly in an interview: Ayatollah Khamenei "now wants to tolerate Ahmadinejad, [with' the same approach as a repair and maintenance project". And, in apparent testament to that effort, the Supreme Leader appointed the members of a new arbitration panel, led by a former head of judiciary, to handle disputes amongst the branches of Government.

But can Ahmadinejad be contained? Yesterday, he told an audience in Golestan Province in northern Iran that "disturbers of unity are politically mentally retarded" and insisted that no one needs bread in country after the success of his subsidy cuts. 

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