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Iran Live Coverage: Ahmadinejad Anoints His Right-Hand Man for President

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1514 GMT: It's Not About the Nukes. EA's Joanna Paraszczuk reports:

First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi repeated the regime line that the West has not sanctioned Tehran because of its nuclear program. "The cause of the sanctions is not our nuclear science and knowledge, particularly since Iran has officially announced and will also go on record with the UN that Iran is not seeking a nuclear bomb," he explained.

Rahimi added that the West has sanctioned Iran because of its achievements and innovations in science and technology.

The Vice President concluded with comments about the US: "The country of America was formed by a bunch of English malfeasants," adding that America was not superior to other countries in terms of science and technology.

1205 GMT: Sanctions Watch. The European Union has “imposed a series of new sanctions today targeting a number of judges and media figures accused of human rights violations taking the number of individuals under sanctions to nearly 90.

Mohammad Sarafraz, the head of both IRIB, Iran's state broadcaster, and Press TV, is among those listed for his alleged cooperation with security services and prosecutors to broadcast forced confessions of detainees.

The EU also listed Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, the head of a police unit responsible for online censorship and fighting cyber crime, stating "He and his commission actively contributed to the death in detention of blogger Sattar Beheshti.... Thus the commission he is heading is directly responsible for systemic violations of human rights."

The new sanctions are separate from measures already in place regarding Iran’s nuclear programme and specifically target those suspected of human rights violations.

1151 GMT:Elections Watch. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar has declared his candidacy for June's Presidential election.

1150 GMT:Medicine Watch. Hospital officials warn that “a severe shortage of anaesthetic drugs may force the closure of operating rooms.

The head of the Anaesthesiology and Critical Care Society said that over the upcoming New Year holidays only emergency patients will be able to receive operations and that “despite numerous warnings” to the authorities, patients at risk will suffer.

1137 GMT:U2 Watch. Various Iranian media organisations - PressTV, “Fars News and “Mashregh – are reporting that Iran has “identified and repelled an American U2 reconnaissance plane that was trying to intrude into Iranian airspace above the Sea of Oman.”

Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, the commander of Khatam al-Anbiya Air Defense Base, claimed that Iran’s air defence systems detected the highly-advanced aircraft on 10 February, which subsequently left the area over southern Iran following a warning from the country’s air defence units.

This is the latest incident in which Iranian media has trumpeted Iran’s technological advances and achievements having celebrated the capture of a US ScanEagle drone in December 2012, while in December 2011 Iran brought down an American RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft.

EA’s Joanna Paraszczuk notes that this case is particularly interesting – if true – because of the speed with which Iran is announcing it compared to a “similar incident in November 2012.

On that occasion, when the US complained that Iran had chased one of its drones away over international airspace, Iran eventually responded that the drone was actually in its airspace.

This move was severely criticised by some in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and military who felt that Iran should have been the first to report the incident and therefore lost face by only reacting to the US allegations.

1058 GMT: Nuclear Watch. The "hard-line" Mashregh News continues to stress that last month's nuclear talks with the 5+1 Powers ended in a "great and new victory for the Iranian nation and its nuclear negotiating team".

Mashregh claims this shows the "Islamic Republic's nuclear strength" and was the result of several years of "resistance" by the Iranian people and by the government.

The site looks ahead to the next round of high-level negotiations, scheduled for next month, asking what Iran should accept from the West's proposals while remaining suspicious: Ultimately, Mashregh is suspicious. "Let us be clear that [the Feburary discussion in] Almaty is an American stratagem or tactic, and depends upon the options we have regarding the amended package…"

0818 GMT: Oil Watch. Industry sources are projecting that Iranian oil exports will fall by more than 25% in March, reaching a historic low.

Iran's customers will load 810,000 barrels per day of crude in March compared with about 1.1 million bpd in February, according to the sources.

Tehran's top customers in Asia -- China, India, South Korea and Japan -- are projected to load 703,000 bpd in March versus about 960,000 bpd a month earlier.

Turkey is the only European buyer of Iranian crude.

Iran's exports have already been halved from the level of 2.2 million bpd in 2011, and new US sanctions in February have further hindered Iran's ability to carry out financial transactions for oil sales. India has halted payment in Euros, now offering only rupees, and Turkey has been blocked from transferring gold.

0712 GMT: Labour Front. Hundreds of workers gathered in front of Government offices in Tehran on Monday to protest over four months of unpaid wages. They were joined by retired employees worried about pensions.

The demonstrators blocked Taleghani Avenue, a main thoroughfare in the capital.

The protest was ended after officials promised that demands would be addressed, but the workers pledged "to return with greater vigour" if nothing was done.

0705 GMT: All the President's Men (Trial Edition). Facing charges of complicity in murder, Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi has insisted that he had "complained" about the "unpleasant events" in the Kahrizak detention centre in summer 2009.

Mortazavi, who was Tehran Prosecutor General at the time, is accused of involvement in the abuse and killings of three post-election protesters in Kahrizak.

The Presidential aide had accused the court, holding its second hearing in the case, of not being competent to try him, but on Monday he tried a softer line, expressing sympathy for the families of the victims.


0655 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Pakistani Front). Speaking in Geneva, senior judiciary official Mohammad Javad Larijani has hit back at the latest report of United Nations Special Rapporter on Human Rights Ahmed Shaheed as "biased": "Acts like this not only disregard the internal capabilities of the system, but it also leads the atmosphere toward polarization and politicization of human rights in the UN.”

Shaheed, who has been blocked by Tehran from entering the country, used interviews and documents for his report on the Iranian regime's repression of human rights. He cited detentions, executions, intimidation and imprisonment of journalists, and suppression of minorities, including the Baha'i community.

Addressing the UN Human Rights Council, Larijani asserted, "We as a Muslim country and part of the great society of world Muslims have the equally given right to have a lifestyle based on Islamic rationality and our own precious culture.”

0625 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Pakistani Front). International media have rightly paid attention to Monday's inauguration of a $1.5 billion gas pipeline project by President Ahmadinejad and his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari. They note that Tehran and Islamabad are continuing the initiative despite pressure from the US.

However, there is a significant anomaly in the Iranian coverage. Ahmadinejad's website is effusive in its articles and pictures. So is the pro-Ahmadinejad State news agency IRNA, although it makes sure to headline that the project could not have been started "without the guidance and support of the Supreme Leader".

State outlet Press TV appears to have slighted Ahmadinejad, however. Its Monday morning report on the ceremony gives only a brief mention that he was there --- Zardari, but not Ahmadinejad, is quoted.

The sidelining of the President continued later in the day as Press TV preferred another official in the opening paragraph, "Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi says the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project serves the interests of the Iranian and Pakistani nations."

0545 GMT: Ahmadinejad and His Successor. The message from an Iran observer via Twitter was blunt: "Photo of Islamic Republic of Iran's Presidency Website: Ahmadinejad annoints his man Rahim-Mashai", and the image of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai --- his long-time ally, former Chief of Staff, and current Secretary of the Organization of Islamic States ---- is indeed striking (see top of entry).

Formally, the President was awarding the "National Cultural Medal" to Rahim-Mashai, who was head of Iran's Culture, Heritage, and Tourism Organization before he became Ahmadinejad's Chief of Staff. Not so formally but more importantly, Ahmadinejad appeared to be declaring that the controversial Rahim-Mashai, labelled by critics as the head of the "deviant current" within the Government, is his choice to win June's Presidential election.

That message was reinforced by Ahmadinejad's declaration of "spring, spring, and spring" as he awarded the medal. The words echoed the President's exhortation, "Viva Spring!" during his speech last month on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution --- seen as his opening of Rahim-Mashai's campaign, and amidst Ahmadinejad's pointed warning about others who would attempt to "engineer" the election.

Now to other signs of a Rahim-Mashai campaign and a formality: will the Guardian Council, which has to approve any Presidential candidate, let him stand?

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