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Iran Live Coverage: Ahmadinejad v. Parliament...and the Revolutionary Guards

See also Iran Live Coverage: Please Vote (P.S. --- We Did Not Rig the Last Election)

1916 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Forty-eight Iranian men, abducted in Syria last August and released yesterday in exchange for freedom for 2130 civilian detainees in Syrian prisons, arrive at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport:

1902 GMT: Police Watch. Five people have been arrested for “the production of illegal and underground music for singers in Los Angeles and satellite networks”, police officials announced today.

On Wednesday, the head of the agency for the Protection and Maintenance of Cultural and Artistic Work, Saeed Jaberi Ansari, said the Ministry of Culture and Guidance is committed to “protecting musicians, protecting investment in this sector, and identifying illegal studios in Iran. We intend to put an end to the studios that work illegally and produce material, which is sometimes aired on satellite networks.”

In December, 28 people were reportedly arrested for involvement in dubbing and translation activities connected with Persian-language satellite networks.

1741 GMT: Economy Watch. An Iranian official has said that 50% of "quick impact firms" which have received preferential loans have shut down.

1552 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has said that 12 indictments, spelled out in 125 pages, have been filed against Mehdi Hashemi, the son of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Hashemi was arrested in September on charges of financial and electoral fraud upon his return from a three-year exile in Britain.

1550 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, after talks in Cairo with Egyptian leaders, has said, "I call with all my heart for the neighboring countries, the countries of the region to come together to find a solution to the crisis in Syria, a solution that must be Syrian only to avoid any foreign intervention."

Salehi continued, Ewith Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr at his side, "Foreign countries don't want the best for us so we must work to find a Syrian solution to the crisis."

1530 GMT: Revolutionary Guards Watch. A commander has said that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, expanding its already-signficant role in the economy, has said it will take over purchase and distribution of domestic farm produce.

1230 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Here's a story to watch --- an EA correspondent in Iran argues, from a range of evidence:

Hashemi Rafsanjani is working on a comprehensive plan for the upcoming Presidential election. I think that his goal is to politely push Khamenei to one side --- i.e., politely putting him under a question mark for his past actions --- and at the same time gradually knock Ahmadinejad down.

The correspondent offers this example: meeting teachers and students on Wednesday, Rafsanjani indirectly challenged the Supreme Leader's speech insisting that Iran had always had free elections and telling Iranians that they must vote to defeat the plans of the enemy.

Saying that he still had the same stand as his July 2009 Tehran Friday Prayer --- in which he supported post-election protest and called for the release of political prisoners --- Rafsanjani said that it is the people who "will pave the way to free elections".

1215 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Prominent attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah has been released on furlough from prison.

Dadkhah, a founder of the Center for Defenders of Human Rights, is serving a nine-year sentence for his membership in the CDHR and "propaganda against the regime" for giving interviews to foreign media.

1155 GMT: The House Arrests. The eldest daughter of detained opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have reiterated that the family will do everything in their power to report on their condition and the injustice of their house arrest.

The couple's daughters have been denied visits in recent weeks, despite the death of Rahnavard's father.

Mousavi and Rahnavard, along with fellow opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, have been held under strict house arrest since February 2011.

Kokab Mousavi said:

We will not hold back and we will continue to do everything in our power to report on the condition of our parents, defending them against such unjust accusations. The rest is in the God's hands, and hopefully these injustices will soon come to an end....

We don't have any hope in the authorities. We will nevertheless continue our efforts, enlightening the public and generating awareness, for it is through awareness that the web these gentlemen have spun around themselves will --- God willing --- eventually turn to dust.

Kokab Mousavi specifically addressed the failure by the regime to put her father on trial:

I highly doubt that they will allow my father to respond to accusations. A regime that is only 100% accepting of its own point of view, is fearful of any event and concerned that its pillars may weaken and become unstable. Such a government will never take a risk of this type. They are fully aware that my father stands for the truth. This government undoubtedly realizes that allowing my father to defend himself would be to their disadvantage.

1135 GMT: Sanctions Watch. The Algemeiner claims that the luxury-car firms Maserati and Lamborghini will no longer do business in Iran.

0750 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Turkish Front). The mystery of the "plane full of gold", grounded at an Istanbul airport and supposedly destined for Tehran, continues....

The flight made an emergency landing at Sabiha Gokcen Airport last week due to technical reasons, according to an official. It is still being held because the crew is refusing to document its cargo, and the authorities are threatening to "do what's necessary...for security reasons".

Initial reports claimed 1.5 tonnes of gold on board the aircraft, but there have been conflicting claims of where the flight --- some accounts say an African country such as Ghana, while others cite the UAE.

It is unclear if the incident is connected to Turkey's payments of gold for Iranian natural gas. Ankara's transfers of the precious metal, amid international sanctions blocking other forms of payment, soared 11,000% to Tehran in 2012.

0700 GMT: One of the more unintentially humourous videos at the moment is the promotional clip from a pair of US-based commentators, trying to pitch their book with the claim of incisive knowledge of the Islamic Republic. Their four-minute patter turns into an elegy to President Ahmadinejad, hailing his overwhelming popularity and the success of his economic programmes.

Because the pair are blocking any substantial questions of their "analysis" on their website, they do not actually have to notice what is occurring in Iran --- in this case, the months of tension between Ahmadinejad and other elements of the regime, including the challenge that has effectively suspended the second stage of his subsidy cuts programme. As we headlined last week, with the run-up to June's Presidential election, this has the appearance of "Ahmadinejad v. Everyone Else".

Two stories on Wednesday gave us more material. Ahmadinejad, refusing to accept his defeat over subsidy cuts, will try to revive the initiative with a visit to Parliament next Wednesday. Anticipating this, some key MPs --- notably the head of the Economy Committee --- put out the message that they will not give way.

Even more dramatic is the flare-up over the election, a fight which threatens to revive the question of "legitimacy", four years after Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election. After the Supreme Leader's representative Ali Saeedi said it was the "duty" of the Revolutionary Guards to "engineer" June's ballot, the President --- in what can be appreciated as irony after the events of June 2009 --- declared, "Whoever wants to manage people's votes will be managed by the people."

The Guards were not amused. A senior official snapped that Ahmadinejad's remark was "astonishing".

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