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Iran Live Coverage: "Free Elections" and Detained Journalists

See also Iran Analysis: Nervous About Elections, The Regime Imprisons Journalists
Iran Breaking: The Space Monkey Could Be A Nuclear Warhead
Monday's Iran Live Coverage: This Weekend's Crackdown on the Press --- Why?

2000 GMT: Press Watch. The conservative sites Tabnak and Baztab, as well as Iranian History, have been blocked inside Iran.

Tabnak, linked to leading politician Mohsen Rezaei, was suspended on Sunday amid a crackdown on the press. Baztab has been notable for its criticism of the Ahmadinejad Government.

It is unclear why Iranian History has been blocked.

1946 GMT: Corruption Watch. Farshad Heydari, the managing director of the Central Bank, has explained the real reason why news emerged in autumn 2011 of a $2.6 billion bank fraud: traitors published it to stain the Ahmadniejad Government.

1543 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Al Jazeera English reports on US and Canadian banks closing the accounts of Iranian students because of sanctions:

1338 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. At least five students of Ayatollah Dastgheib, a prominent critic of the Government since 2009, have been arrested in Shiraz.

1311 GMT: Food Watch. The head of the Rice Union has protested the cut-off of subsidised foreign currency for imports of rice --- he said the market will be "further disturbed" because of the sudden halt and lack of price controls.

1305 GMT: Welfare Watch. Ali Saeedi, the Supreme Leader's representative to the Revolutionary Guards, has bluntly said "financial support" of the poorer classes is necessary to defend them against the sedition of enemy and to support the Iranian system.

1300 GMT: Economy Watch. Inspector General and former Minister of Interior Mostafa Pourmohammadi has said treatment of economic problems is more important than the development projects launched by the Government.

Pourmohammadi drove home his point: "If Iran's price rises occurred in Europe, people would start rioting in the cities."

1055 GMT: Space Monkey Watch. In our exclusive Space Monkey coverage --- including the possibility that he/she might be a Nuclear Warhead --- we noted our concern that Iran's first simian aboard a satellite was no name.

The Iranian Labor News Agency responds to our worry: it has asked the public to christen "the first Iranian monkey astronaut".

0755 GMT: Conspiracy Theory Watch. Despite a lack of evidence, the tale of a mysterious explosion at Iran's Fordoo uranium enrichment plan rattles on, courtesy of the Iranian "CIA spy" Reza Kahlili and the "former Iranian intelligence officer" Hamid Reza Zakeri, mischievous Israeli officials, and outlets like The Times of London and Speigel.

In a silver-lining twist, the chatter has brought rare convergence between Tehran and Washington --- both the Iranian regime and the US Government issued denials on Monday.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "We have no information to confirm the allegations in the report and we do not believe the report is credible. We don't believe those are credible reports."

Kahlili persists, however: "Sixteen North Koreans, including 14 technicians and two top military officers, are among those trapped after a Jan. 21 explosion destroyed much of Iran’s Fordow nuclear site, a source reveals."

0745 GMT: Oil Watch. The US has played down last week's report of the purchase of Iranian oil by South Korean-French consortium Samsung Total Petrochemicals.

The company defied sanctions and turned to Tehran because thin profit margins in plastics production make inexpensive fuel from the Islamic Republic hard to resist, according to sourcese familiar with the deal.

US State Department spokesman John Finn said, "We continue to engage in close consultations with the Korean government on U.S. sanctions and share the objective of maintaining pressure on Iran to comply with its international obligations."

Finn said South Korea has significantly reduced its imports of Iranian oil and that "month-to-month variability in crude oil purchases is not unusual".

0638 GMT: Elections Watch. The Guardian Council has approved a new committee for administration of June's Presidential election. Headed by the Minister of Interior, the committee will have representatives of all three branches of Government and seven political, cultural, and social figures.

The move was prompted in part by fear that the Ministry of Interior, which oversaw the disputed 2009 election, might be under the influence of a particular faction in the campaign and ballot.

0635 GMT: Food Watch. The opposition site Rah-e Sabz reports a sudden 15% rise in the price of chicken in several provinces such as Khorasan and Tehran.

The spike may explain why the Government announced on Monday the release of 10,000 tonnes of frozen chicken.

0605 GMT: Press Watch. The reasons for the detention of 15 journalists, raids on five publications, and the suspension of another since Saturday are still unclear this morning, beyond the regime's declaration of their contacts with "anti-revolutionary" elements. On Monday, Minister of Culture Mohammad Hosseini said the imprisonment were not related to “press” activities: “It seems that they have been arrested over security accusations."

The raids appear to have been planned for some time. Reza Moini of Reporters Without Borders says some of the arrested journalists had been questioned by security officials before the weekend's operations.

Journalists from all over Iran, especially from Tehran, have been summoned by the security office of the Revolutionary Guards, and also the Intelligence Ministry, and interrogated.
They’ve been mainly asked about the June vote, especially about the recent speech of Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khamenei, in which he had called for an end to talk about free elections. Some of the journalists were warned and some were even told not to vote.

Moini claims that eight other reporters have been summoned for questioning.

One of the 15 journalists, Motahareh Shafiee, has been released for health reasons.

Green Voice of Freedom has photographs of all those detained.

Meanwhile, Baztab --- an Iranian website notable for its sharp criticism of the Government and President Ahmadinejad --- said that its off-line status on Monday was due to server problems, rather than pressure by authorities.

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