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Iran Live Coverage: The Economic Crisis Claims the Minister of Health

See also Iran Special: New York Times Notices Important Nuclear Story...Four Months Later
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Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi1650 GMT: Refugee Watch. The BBC posts a video report on thousands of Iranians who fled to Turkey amid the unrest after the disputed 2009 Presidential elections.

Many refugees are frustrated that they are still waiting for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to process their asylum applications so they can settle in European countries.

The UNHCR says it does not have enough resources to process applications at a faster rate.

1600 GMT: Sedition Watch. Ayatollah Alamolhoda, the Friday Prayer leader in Mashhad, warms to this weekend's theme of "victory over sedition" (see 1200 GMT) with discussion of detained opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi: "We cannot call Mousavi and Karroubi seditionists, but they paved the way for foreign elements and imperialism."

1400 GMT: Minister of Health Watch. The backlash over President Ahmadinejad's dismissal of Minister of Health Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi builds....

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar has said Parliament will investigate Ahmadinejad's firing of Minister and has insisted that the entire Cabinet needs new Parlliamentary approval if more than half the Ministers are changed.

1200 GMT: Your Tehran Friday Prayer Update. Hojatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi joins other military and political figures preparing for Sunday's third anniversary of the regime rally which countered mass protests against the 2009 Presidential election and its aftermath.

Seddiqi said victory said "sedition" had been achieved with a "miracle of miracles" through the "epic endurance, patience, and courage" of the Iranian people.

1040 GMT: Economy Watch. MP Ahmad Amirabadi has complained that payments to government institutions have been delayed. He specifically claimed that military personnel have not been paid last month's wages.

1035 GMT: All the President's Men and Women. Digarban sumamrises conservative criticism, including the comment of the Supreme Leader's ally Gholam Ali Haddad Adel noted below (see 0635 GMT), of the dismissal of Minister of Health Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi.

0915 GMT: Chest-Thumping of the Day. Expect Iranian State media to be dominated today by cheerleading for the latest naval drills, the six-day exercise Velayat 91.

The manoeuvres will take place in the Strait of Hormuz, the Sea of Oman, the Gulf of Aden, and Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.

It is notable, however, that the emphasis today --- unlike the portrayal of drills earlier this --- is on defence and security, rather than confrontation with the "West". Below the Press TV headline, "Iran Navy Launches Drill to Display Capabilities, Send Friendship Message", Navy commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari says:

Among the aims of the drill is to display the capabilities of Iran’s Armed Forces and the Navy to defend our country’s water borders and interests in line with establishing durable security in the region and conveying the message of peace and friendship to the neighboring states.

0805 GMT: Oil Watch. Japan’s imports of Iranian oil almost trebled in November from the previous month to reach their highest level since March.

Oil purchases rose to about 261,000 barrels per day from about 98,000 bpd in October.

Iranian State media play up the news while ignoring the 39% fall in Japan's purchases this year. Even with the increase last month, the total for November 2012 is down 19% from November 2011.

Last week, the head of Japan's largest refiner said the country will import fewer than 160,000 bpd in 2013, almost half the amount in 2011.

Earlier this month, the US extended Japan’s exemption from bank sanctions because of Tokyo's reduced purchases of Iranian crude.

0635 GMT: The Battle Within. The political fallout from President Ahmadinejad's firing of the Minister of Health has begun.

Gholam Ali Haddad Adel --- key MP, former Speaker of Parliament, leading member of the Supreme Leader's camp --- said on Thursday that Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi's dismissal had two negative effects. He said that it will disappoint qualified women and --- getting to the heart of the politics and economics --- that no minister can accomplish much in the remaining months of the Ahmadinejad Government.

0615 GMT: For Western observers, the distinction of President Ahmadinejad's firing on Wednesday of his Minister of Health, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, lay in the dismissal of the Islamic Republic's first-ever female Minister.

While notable, that headline obscured the far more significant intersection of politics and economics.

Dastjerdi has been under political pressure for months, accused by some MPs --- to the point of threatened impeachment --- of mismanagement that led to shortages of drugs and medical supplies. 

Whether or not Dastjerdi was competent, she served primiarily as a scapegoat, so others who are more important within the regime can avoid obvious problems. For example, while Iranian media in recent weeks have discovered the story tha sanctions have crippled Iran's health care, Ahmadinejad --- given that he said earlier this year that those sanctions were "worthless paper" --- could not easily grab that excuse.

And Dastjerdi, hitting back at her critics, threatened to expose the real difficulty. In recent weeks, she was more and more vocal that the Central Bank was to blame for the medical crisis, as it was refusing to release $2 billion in foreign currency for purchases of necessary imports.

That allegation goes to the heart of Iran's economic predicament. The Islamic Republic faces a fall of about 40% in its foreign-exchange revenues this year because of the drop in oil exports. At the same time, it has probably had to use up foreign reserves not only for imports, but also in an emergency intervention to prop up a currency that had fallen 70% this year.

So a vital question in this episode of Iran's first-hired and first-fired female Minister: did the Central Bank withhold the $2 billion because the Islamic Republic's foreign reserves --- estimated at about $80 billion at the end of 2011 --- are running low?

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