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Monday
Feb182013

Iran Live Coverage: Ahmadinejad Refuses to Back Down

See also Iran Analysis: 4 Reasons Why Supreme Leader is Still Open to Direct Talks with the US
Iran Document: Supreme Leader's Speech on "The Battle Within" & Talks With US
Sunday's Iran Live Coverage: Admitting the Battle Within


1855 GMT: Economy Watch. Radio Zamaneh summarises the reports from Iranian State agencies and the Central Bank that put Iran's inflation rate at the sixth-worst in the world.

The stated rate varies from agency to agency, but most estimates put the current annual rise in prices at 32 to 37%, the greatest increase since 1996. Unofficial estimates put forth an even higher figure.

1755 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch (Press Edition). Twelve local journalists have reportedly been arrested in Ilam in Iranian Kurdistan.

1748 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. VOA Persian reports on Kurdish detainee Semko Khelghati, presented by Press TV as a spy in the programme "A Time to Betray" --- Semko's mother reports that her son, an "excellent" university student in metallurgy, was tortured to confess before he received a 15-year sentence.

1735 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Sources at refiners say India is now paying Iran only in rupees for its oil after new US sanctions on 6 February cut off transactions in Euros.

Because the rupee is only partly convertible, limiting its international acceptability, Iran can only use the currency to buy non-sanctioned goods and services from India.

Since problems with transactions led to a build-up of billions of dollars owed by India in 2011, Delhi had been paying for oil with a mix of Euros and rupees. Turkey's Halkbank has been handling the Euro after other conduits were choked by earlier sanctions.

Sources at two Indian refiners said they received an email from Halkbank on 5 February that it would not be able to handle Iranian oil payments from the following day. One said he had recieved a one-sentence e-mail, commenting, "Halkbank is history now."

India is Iran's second-biggest client after China, but its imports fell last year by about 20%, as Delhi earned a US waivers from financial punishment over continuing purchases.

1725 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Chinese Front). An incident which unsettles the standard line of China as ally of the Islamic Republic....

Chinese State TV has aired an interview with Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last Shah in Iran, in which he said the regime has no future.

The Iranian Embassy in Beijing has protested against the "irresponsible interview".

1542 GMT: The Battle Within. Iran Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei has said that two of the figures in the showdown between President Ahmadinejad and Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani --- Larijani's brother Fazel Larijani and businessman Babak Zanjani --- have been summoned to court for enquiries, along with two or three other persons.

Ahmadinejad's allegation on the floor of Parliament, bolstered by videos distributed later by his supporters, was that Fazel Larijani and Zanjani asked for political favours from controversial Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi.

1449 GMT: The House Arrests. Kokab Mousavi, the eldest daughter of the detained opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard, has been summoned to Evin Prison and interrogated for three hours. The focus was on her interviews with media.

Kokab's sisters, Zahra and Narges, were questioned last Monday after their homes were raided.

Mousavi and Rahnavard have spent more than two years under strict house arrests. Their daughters have spoken of concern and frustration at not being allowed to speak to them and of worries over their health.

1441 GMT: The Battle Within. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, having promised the Supreme Leader that he would cease fire in the battle with President Ahmadinejad, turns to indirect attack....

The Speaker of Parliament jabs at Ahmadinejad through reference to the first President of the Islamic Republic, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, who was forced to flee the country in 1980. Larijani said Bani Sadr was "anti-clerical", trying to exclude them from the affairs of the new Islamic Republic.

1435 GMT: The Battle Within. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the head of the Basij militia, has distanced himself from any connection to the attack by President Ahmadinejad's supporters on Speaker of Parliament on 3 February (see 1050 GMT): "Relating the 'disturbers' in Qom to the Basij is a lie. If anyone is a member, he will now be excluded."

1200 GMT: The Battle Within. An Iranian analyst and occasional EA contributor notes a detail from the Supreme Leader's Saturday speech which raises questions about his control of the political situation:

Khamenei's speech struck me in the way he insisted that the impeachment [of the Ministry of Labor on 3 February, sparking a confrontation between President Ahmadinejad and Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani] should have not have taken place at all. It felt to me like he wasn't aware of it, or didn't green-light it prior to it occurring.

His body language and choice of words made it seem he was genuinely taken aback by the decision of the Majlis, and the apology of the Parliamentarians en masse [on Sunday] seems to corroborate the idea that they took a decision without consulting with him.

This opens a larger can of worms in that it really poses the question as to whether Khamenei really calls the shots and is the Sultan and omnipotent leader/dictator that many like to portray him to be. It also raises the issue as to what extent he truly controls the political system.

My gut feeling is that this whole episode has narrowed down even more than range of candidates amenable to him for the Presidential elections, down to maybe the likes of [the Supreme Leader's senior advisor Ali Akbar] Velayati and [leading MP and Khamenei relative by marriage Gholam Ali] Haddad Adel.

1050 GMT: The Battle Within. Joanna Paraszczuk takes a closer look at the article on the conservative site Baztab, accusing President Ahmadinejad of trying to intimidate his rivals and "engineer" June's Presidential election for one of his cronies.

Taken together with Ahmadinejad's Sunday speech --- which accused his rivals of the "engineering" --- this is a serious marker of the political conflict. What is more, Baztab reopens the Ahmadinejad feud with Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani.

Denouncing the "gangs of power" trying to rig the Presidential election, Baztab refers to the attack by Ahmadinejad supporters on Larijani as he tried to deliver a speech on 10 February, the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

While the President was speaking in Tehran's Azadi Square --- and introducing the charge that others were trying to "engineer" the Presidential vote --- his backers were shouting down Larijani and throwing prayer tablets and shoes at him in a mosque in Qom.

Baztab also accuses the office of hard-line cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi of involvement. It claims that this was the opening assault by Ahmadinejad and his "troops" in a campaign "which encompasses chaos, destruction , character assassination, and even physical confrontations".

1005 GMT: Cyber-Watch. A story of what appears to be a Government cyber-intelligence operation gone wrong....

Recently the site vpn.ir appeared, inviting Iranians to sign up for a Virtual Private Network.

Mahdi Akhavan Bahabadi, the head of the National Center of Cyberspace, reportedly announced last month, “We have prepared the necessary facilities to offer VPN services to Iranian clients. These users can apply for this service in post offices and local officials will look into their cases. We will introduce certified sellers to Internet users in order to provide VPN services.”

This development was curious, as the regime has declared VPNs illegal, since they allow Iranians to access the Internet while bypassing the blocks and filters on "undesirable" websites.

Was this a "sting" operation to trap and prosecute those who signed up? In any case, It appears that people were not trusting enough to use vpn.ir --- the site is now off-line.

0815 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. As important as the President's non-apology to the Supreme Leader is (see 0620 GMT), we noted on Sunday that Ahmadinejad may have put out an even more signficant message --- in a speech, he repeated his criticism of those who had called for the "engineering" of June's Presidential election. That is another swipe at the Supreme Leader's representative Ali Saeedi, who used the word last month in an injunction to the Revolutionary Guards to ensure the right result, and a general warning to the Guardian Council.

This morning the conservative site Baztab, a staunch critic of Ahmadinejad, hits back. It accuses the President of trying to rig the ballot: "'Engineering elections is exactly the work that Ahmadinejad's troops in Qom have done."

0640 GMT: Enemy Watch. Four members of the US Congress have met the leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Maryam Rajavi.

The Representatives, all on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, saw Rajavi in her Paris base, then issued a statement, "The Administration should be talking to members of the Iranian opposition, as our delegation did today, instead of fruitless talks with the Iranian rulers."

The NCRI is the political wing of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which has sought the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, often through violence, since 1980. The MEK, after sustained pressure from legislators and other Washington activists, was removed from the State Department's list of terrorist organisations last year.

0620 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. The letter, posted on President Ahmadinejad's website, was a brief one but it had a pointed, if coded, message.

Ahmadinejad, writing to the Supreme Leader, expressed his respect and devotion to Ayatollah Khamenei and his dedication to the Iranian people. But he did not utter a single word of apology for the incident on 3 February in which he had used a speech on the floor of Parliament to accuse Speaker Ali Larijani and his family of corruption.

He did not do so, even though the Supreme Leader had said clearly on Saturday morning that the President's behaviour was "bad", "immoral", and "illegal".

He did not do so, even though the Larijanis had quickly reacted within hours by apologising and thanking the Supreme Leader for his "compassionate wisdom". He did not do so even though Ali Larijani had organised a Parliamentary apology on Sunday morning for impeaching the Minister of Labor, the catalyst for Ahmadinejad's speech in the Majlis.

He effectively said, "The ball is in your court, Supreme Leader. What do you do now?"

An EA correspondent goes farther. Ahmadinejad is wrecking the attempts, backed by Ayatollah Khamenei, for a "unity" candidate to win June's Presidential election --- he continues to push for a successor, such as his right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai. The correspondent declares:

Ahmadinejad just told Khamanei: accept Rahim-Mashai, or I will make even bigger trouble. Khamenei can do next to nothing: putting more pressure on Ahmadinejad and his cronies will end up in even more fierce reactions.

The Supreme Leader is chained to his darling --- if Ahamadinejad goes down, he will drag Khamenei down as well.

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