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The Latest from Iran (25 December): Is the Currency Falling Again?

See also The Latest from Iran (24 December): All-Is-Well Oil Alert...But With a Confession>

1755 GMT: Parliament v. President. Kalemeh summarises today's closed session of Parliament, the latest act in the Majlis' battle with President Ahmadinejad over his economic plans and subsidy cuts programme.

1725 GMT: Economic Warfare Watch. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the head of the Basij militia, has tried to rally people for economic battle.

Naqdi said the enemy has turned to Iran's economy after failure in the military, cultural, and political realms. He proclaimed that the Bazaar is the "honour" of Iran's economy and that, as a large consumer, the Revolutionary Guards can change the behaviour of producers.

An EA correspondent assesses, "This is a harsh warning to the private sector to keep prices low."

1655 GMT: Currency Watch. Back from a Christmas break to find more curious signals from the currency and gold markets....

Tasnim News Agency reports that major gold and jewelry news sites were filtered for unknown reasons.

And, a website directory of Iranian businesses abroad, posts gold prices and exchange rates for the Iranian Rial, including 33250:1 vs. the US dollar.

That rate is close to that beginning to emerge in Iranian media --- and indicating a weakening Rial --- after a blackout of more than two months on published rates.

1405 GMT: Economy Watch. Opposition site Kalemeh claims a report from Parliament's Research Center indicating production and employment have fallen 40% and 36%, respectively, since March.

Production has reportedly been affected by rises in prices of raw material of between 87% and 112%.

1335 GMT: Cyber-Watch. An official at the Passive Defence Organisation has said that an Internet virus has attacked computers at several industrial sites in in Hormozgan Province in southern Iran.

Ali Akbar Akhavan, head of the Hormozgan branch of the organisation, said the attacks had taken place over the last several months but had been neutralised:

Enemies are constantly attacking Iran's industrial units through Internet networks in order to create disruptions. This virus has even penetrated some manufacturing industries in Hormozgan province, but with timely measures and the cooperation of skilled hackers in the province, the progress of this virus was halted.

Akhavan said one of the targets was the Bandar Abbas Tavanir, a producer of electricity in the province.

1115 GMT: Parliament v. President. More reports of trouble for President Ahmadinejad from the closed-door session of the Majlis...

Leading MP Ahmad Tavakoli has called for a letter to Parliament's leadership detailing the "problems and possible future consequences of economic decisions", while Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar has spoken of the spiralling price of bread.

0935 GMT: Parliament v. President. It looks like President Ahmadinejad will have an uphill task in saving his subsidy cuts programme, despite his nationally-televised speech on Saturday night.

Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam, the head of Parliament's Budget and Planning Committee, has told a closed session of the Majlis of the "adverse effects" of the first stage of the programme, launched in December 2010.

More than a year after the Government said the second stage of the cuts was "imminent", the phase has yet to be implemented and was blocked again last week by Parliament.

0755 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Faezeh Hashemi, the detained daughter of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, has written, "They cannot take away the tools of the political prisoner; if their thoughts and their pens could be controlled, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi [the last Shah of Iran] would never have fallen."

Hashemi wrote of her conditions, "I have been in Evin Prison for three months; I see the women's political prisoner ward rife with mismanagement, inefficiencies, bureaucracy, a lack of a programs, unprofessional decision-making, the obstinacy of middle management and the concentration of power."

She added that whenever this situation is alleviated through protests by the prisoners, officials try to get back at the detainees. They are put under pressure through "barring [of] in-person meetings between mothers and their children; cutting phone calls to aging or ailing parents who can't come for visits, or children who are living in other cities and can't make visits; and restricting visits with spouses who are also incarcerated."

Hashemi is serving a six-month prison sentence for "propaganda activities against the regime" and is barred from political, cultural and media activities for five years. She was punished after an interview with Rooz Online in which she referred to the Islamic Republic;s government as a "bunch of thugs and hoodlums".

0635 GMT: It has been difficult to establish the "real" rate of the Iranian currency since October, when authorities suspended the open market and the Central Bank set a special "trade room" to provide foreign exchange for some importers and preferred customers. To the best of our knowledge, the Rial --- which had dropped almost 70% this year to close to 40000:1 vs. the US dollar --- had strengthened to 27000:1.

However, since early December EA sources have been reporting that, with the open market still restricted, the Rial has been slipping beyond the 30000:1 mark. Yesterday, the opposition site Radio Zamaneh, without citing sources, said the currency had fallen significantly in a week to 33500:1.

Now Iranian media are putting out similar reports. The Iranian Students News Agency puts the rate at 332000:1 and writes that gold prices are rising again. Baztab has a rate of more than 34000:1, attributing the Rial's latest drop to President Ahmadinejad's speech on the economy on Saturday night.

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