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Iran Live Coverage: Ali Larijani and The Battle Within The Regime

See also Saturday's Iran Live Coverage: The Blame Game over No Nuclear Talks

2109 GMT. Press Watch. Iranian reporter Hadi Nili lists up to 13 journalists who have been detained today --- these are in addition to Milad Fadai Asl and Soleiman Mohammadi, who were seized earlier in the weekend:

1952 GMT. Political Prisoner Watch. Iranian-American Christian pastor Saeed Abedini has been given an 8-year prison sentence.

Abedinia, minister in Boise, Idaho, was in Iran visiting an orphanage and seeing family members when he was put under house arrest in July and then detained in September.

1952 GMT. Press Watch. There are reports of 10 journalists arrested in today's regime crackdown on the press.

The Filtering Committee has said that the conservative site Tabnak, leading to prominent politician Mohsen Rezaei, was not suspended on its order, but on that of Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Ali Doulatabadi.

1744 GMT. Press Watch. More news of suppression of journalists and publications --- the offices of the reformiist dailies Shargh, Etemad, and Bahar and the weekly Aseman have been raided, with reports of arrests.

The question: given today's suspension of the leading conservative daily Tabnak and the arrests of two journalists, one from the Iranian Labor News Agency and one from Bahar, is there a movement within the regime which links these events in a new crackdown on media?

And if so, why?

1724 GMT. Food Watch. Reports of a significant development over food supplies, amid recent reports of rising prices and shortages....

Fars quotes a Central Bank official as saying that subsidies have been halted for imports of rice. Importers will no longer be able to pay at the preferential rate of foreign exchange, under which the Rial is three times stronger vs. the US dollar.

Earelir this week, Parliament reportedly was challenging President Ahmadinejad's plan to remove subsidies from food and energy products. A compromise was suppposedly reached in mid-week with the allocation of $2 billion to obtain subsidised supplies.

1648 GMT. Ahmadinejad Watch. Speaking after today's Cabinet meeting, President Ahmadinejad has pressed the disputed second phase of his subsidy cuts programme with a conciliatory tone.

Ahmadinejad said the Government, Parliament, and the Supreme Leader were all working together to ensure Iran's economic progress.

1638 GMT. Press Watch. The site of Tabnak, a conservative publication linked to leading regime figure Mohsen Rezaei, is down --- reportedly after a complaint by prosecutors.

1613 GMT. Political Prisoner Watch. Activist sites report that Hamidreza Moradi, a Gonabadi dervish in Evin Prison, has been severely beaten by security forces during interrogations.

Moradi allegedly “vomited blood due to severity of the blows", before he was then stripped of his clothes and left in the yard in cold weather.

Moradi, who ran the Majzooban Noor Website, was arrested in September 2011 with 14 other dervishes. He and six of them are reportedly being held in solitary confinement.

The Gonabadi dervishes date back to the 16th-century mystic Shah Nematollah Vali.

1428 GMT. Symbolic Act of the Day. The Ministry of Oil has announced that it has banned crude oil and gas exports to the European Union.

“Exports of crude oil, [natural] gas liquids (NGL) and gas condensate to the European countries which have taken hostile stances on Iran will be halted until further notice,” ministry spokesman Alireza Nikzad-Rahbar said today.

The “preemptive sanctions” are meaningless, given that the EU pre-empted the pre-emeption when it banned imports of Iranian oil and gas on 1 July. The measure contributed to a halving of Iran's oil sales in 2012.

Nikzad-Rahbar claimed, despite the fall in revenues, "New contracts have been signed with different international companies for exporting and selling crude oil and gas condensate.”

1349 GMT. No Romance Watch. Iranian customs officials have issued an order banning all goods that promote the “culture of Valentine's Day”.

Authorities have previously said that Valentine’s Day is a “clear symbol of anti-religious cultural invasion”, as it “aims to weaken fundamental family values in the Islamic Republic and is promoted by the capitalist agenda of domination".

1345 GMT. Education Watch. The Teachers Unions claims that teachers across Iran have not been paid allowances for the last four months.

1305 GMT. Nuclear Watch. More sounds of the window closing on nuclear negotiations before Iran's Presidential campaign heats up....

The hard-line Keyhan declares, "Despite previous agreements, the 5+1 Powers are evading talks with Iran." Vatan-e Emrooz claims that the West is trying to "escape from Iranian logic", postponing talks for a month. Tehran-e Emrooz also says it was the 5+1, rather than the Islamic Republic, which requested the delay.

1252 GMT. Currency Watch. Kalemeh reports that the Iranian Rial has weakened slightly, passing the level of 36000:1 vs. the US dollar.

Central Bank intervention in October propped up the Rial, which had lost 70% of its value, to about 27000:1 vs. the US dollar, but the currency starting slipping in early December and fell sharply last weekend amid reports that Bank head Mahmoud Bahmani might resign or be dismissed.

1245 GMT. Political Prisoner Watch. Two more arrests of journalists --- Milad Fadai Asl, a reporter for the Iranian Labor News Agency, and Soleiman Mohammadi, a features editor for Bahar, have been detained.

1010 GMT. Nuclear Watch. Yet another sign that the prospect of renewed nuclear talks is suspended for several months, with each side now sseking to blame the other....

Jam-e Jam carries the statement of Ibrahim Aghamohammadi, a member of Parliament's National Security Committee, that Iran has a right to nuclear technology and the West is making excuses to prevent this: "The West has no goodwill over talks."

0930 GMT. Society Watch. Alef, the site linked to conservative MP Ahmad Tavakoli, has warned that Iranian society is on the precipice of "ethical collapse".

0810 GMT. Nuclear Watch. Former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has criticised Tehran’s approach to negotiations with the 5+1 Powers over the Iranian nuclear programme, saying diplomacy "should follow a logical path rather than a populist path".

Amid recent fencing between Iran and the 5+1 Powers over the date and venue of renewed high-level talks, Mottaki complained that Iran's National Security Council is concentrating on the location rather than the important details of the nuclear issue.

0710 GMT. The Battle Within. Challenges to the Ahmadinejad Government by Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani are far from new. Given that Larijani and his brothers have been accused of corruption by the President, the Speaker is not exactly fond of Ahmadinejad, who defeated him in the 2005 Presidential election. Larijani has been especially critical of his rival on the economic front, making the provocative claim that sanctions are only 20% responsible for Iran's problems --- the other 80% comes from Government mismanagement. Meanwhile, the Parliament has been locked in a months-long battle with Ahmadinejad, trying to block the second phase of his subsidy cuts programme.

So it is not surprising that Larijani returned to these themes on Saturday. He said the Supreme Leader did not support the new stage of the subsidy cuts. He contested Ahmadinejad's attempt to merge the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Roads and Transport, putting his ally Ali Nikzad in charge of a new "super-ministry" of Infrastructure.

There was a notable addition to Larijani's challenge, however. The Speaker jumped into the recent dispute within the regime over the treatment of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, held under strict house arrest for almost two years.

Larijani defended the senior politician Habibollah Asgarouladi, who has suggested that the situation of Mousavi and Karroubi may be re-considered as they are not "seditionists". Asgarouladi has been under fire by other politicians and clerics for those remarks, but Larijani intervened, "These words have also been said by the Supreme Leader." 

The Speaker continued, "If Mousavi and Karroubi accept their mistakes, no one can stop them from returning to the stage."

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