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The Latest from Iran (23 October): Ahmadinejad v. the Judiciary

Head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani refuses President Ahmadinejad's request to visit Evin Prison: "Not now! In one year you can visit this place every day!" (Cartoon: Nikahang Kowsar)

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1811 GMT: President v. Supreme Leader. Adding to today's political tension is a dispute between aides to President Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei....

Ali Saeedi, the Supreme Leader's representative in the Revolutionary Guards, sparked the argument yesterday wit the assertion, "We didn’t have occult foreknowledge to know what is going through the mind of Mr. Ahmadinejad and in the future what he will want to do."

The Political Deputy of the President’s Office, Mohammad Jafar Behdad, responded that Ahmadinejad is “hundreds of times more Principlist than the likes of Mr. Saedi and is more concerned about Islam, the Revolution, and the Leader". He said that Saeedi was in no position "to announce that Ahmadinejad doesn’t act in accordance with the acceptable standards and conditions of the regime".

1736 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. It has been a bad day for the President, and now more MPs are piling on criticism over his dispute with the judiciary.

Sharif Hosseini of the Board of President, which has approved Ahmadinejad's interrogation, has echoed the judiciary's rejection of Ahmadinejad's request to go to Evin Prison, "Caring for economic problems matters, not visiting prison," and asked why the President did not seek this seven years earlier.

MP Mohammad Qasim Osmani accused Ahmadinejad of raising the Evin issue to divert from economic problems. MPs Mohammad Ali Pourmokhtar and Abbas Rajaei have also criticised the President in public.

1632 GMT: Elections Watch. Parliament has approved an 11-member Board, replacing the Ministry of Interior, as the supervisor of the Presidential election.

Board members will include the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Intelligence, the General Prosecutor, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, and seven others chosen from a group of 30 nominees.

1630 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Khabar Online reports that the interrogation of the President by Parliament will proceed.

Although More than 100 of the 290 MPs of the Majlis signed the petitioning for questioning, signals in the last week appeared to show pressure from the Supreme Leader's office to call off the effort.

However, Khabar reports that MPs were not satisfied with written responses about economic and currency matters, so the interrogation will take place.

1540 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. The lawyer for Mehdi Hashemi, the son of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, said his client's appeal for release on bail has been rejected: "I was even banned from entering the Prosecutor's Office."

1511 GMT: Tough Talk of the Day. Minister of Oil Rustam Qassemi has declared that Tehran will stop oil exports if Western sanctions are tightened.

"If sanctions intensify we will stop exporting oil," Qassemi told reporters in Dubai. "We have prepared a plan to run the country without any oil revenues. So far to date we haven't had any serious problems, but if the sanctions were to be renewed we would go for 'Plan B'."

Oil sales provide Iran with more than 80% of its export revenues; however, they have dropped 60% this year amid the sanctions.

Qassemi defiantly maintained, "If you continue to add to the sanctions we (will) cut our oil exports to the world....We are hopeful that this doesn't happen, because citizens will suffer. We don't want to see European and U.S. citizens suffer."

The Minister insisted Iran was still producing 4 million barrels per day (bpd), rejecting OPEC reports that output was just 2.72 bpd in September.

1357 GMT: Economy Watch. Adel Azar, the head of Iran Statistics Center, has told journalists that data on inflation are "secret".

1348 GMT: Sedition Watch. Officials have announced the publication of a second volume of "confessions", in court and to the intelligence services, of the staff of 2009 Presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

1345 GMT: Currency Watch. Official websites continue to be blank on the state of the Iranian Rial and gold prices. Mehr says that the Iranian currency has strengthened 2% vs. the US dollar and that the cost of old gold coin has dropped more than 10%, but offers no details on the claims.

1335 GMT: Campus Watch. Mehr reports on the possible effect of university policies such as the exclusion of women from 77 courses around the country --- 41 to 66.7% of undergraduate and Master's places are unfilled at "Free Universities".

1000 GMT: Supreme Leader Watch. Ayatollah Khamenei has offered condolences to the families of 26 students killed last weekend in southwestern Iran on a bus trip organised by the Basij militia.

0905 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Rooz Online adds a note on the escalating tension, claiming that President Ahmadinejad has threatened to cut the budget of the judiciary.

0600 GMT: With limited news in much of the Iranian media, especially on the economy, a curious but telling dispute between President Ahmadinejad and the judiciary took over the headlines on Monday.

On Sunday, the judiciary --- for the second time --- rejected Ahmadinejad's request to visit Evin Prison. The President, however, was not willing to take the rebuff silently.

Instead, he went public on his website with a lengthy explanation as to why the judiciary's decision was wrong. He did not refer to a possible immediate reason for his trip --- seeing his detained senior aide Ali Akbar Javanfekr, serving a six-month sentence --- but insisted that the President does not have to ask for permission or the judiciary's agreement "to fulfill his legal duties". He then went farther: "I am determined to implement the Constitution and radically reform the Islamic Republic's affairs, visiting prisons and courts."

An EA correspondent noted the irony --- pressing his case to retain some authority, Ahmadinejad now sounded like the "reformists", and indeed many in the Green Movement, who have criticised the repression of the regime since the 2009 election that put the President back in office.

And then there is the question: in its rejection of Ahmadinejad's request, did the judiciary ensure it had the backing of the Supreme Leader's office? 

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