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Iran Live Coverage: The Pre-Election Fight Escalates with Ahmadinejad

1300 GMT: Obama Conspiracy Watch. Joanna Paraszczuk writes....

Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Basij militia, has accused President Obama of "congratulating the Iranian people in Persian but acting in Hebrew" in his message for Iranian New Year.

Naqdi accused Washington of spouting rhetoric and expecting the Iranian people to believe its slogans. Referring to a 2010 nuclear deal put forward by Iran, after mediation by Turkish and Brazilian leaders, the commadner said that Obama had promised to solve the issue but had refused to accept that deal.

Naqdi also commented on Michelle Obama's announcement of the Best Picture Oscar for the "anti-Iranian film" Argo, saying that her actions proved that the annual awards were political in nature.

"We are glad that these facts were made clear to the Iranian people," he said, noting that Michelle Obama had shown the world the truth about the Oscars.

Naqdi's comments follow those of a senior military commander, Yaghoub Soleimani that some "supporters of the Islamic Revolution" want to organize a prize for Michelle Obama for proving that Hollywood movies are politically and not artistically motivated.

1100 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Egyptian Edition). The first commercial flight from Egypt to Iran in 34 years departed from Cairo this morning.

The flight to Tehran by Air Memphis, a private carrier, had eight Iranian passengers, including two diplomats.

Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Wael El-Maadawy announced earlier in March that charter flights between Egypt and Iran will begin within the coming weeks, linking Upper Egyptian touristic destinations of Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel with the Islamic Republic.

Egypt and Iran signed a memorandum of understandingin March promoting cooperation between the two countries in the tourism sector.

0618 GMT: Food Watch. Iranian media report that fruit has been sold at up to four times the price set by the Government during the New Year holidays.

Oranges and apples that sold for 15,000 and 16,000 Rials per kilogramme, respectively, before the beginning of Nowruz on 21 March now cost between 40,000 and 60,000 Rials.

Similar price increases are reported for other fruits and vegetables.

An EA correspondent in Iran confirms the information.

The Minister of Trade and Mining blamed transportation issues as well as the closure of fruit markets due to holidays for the price hike.

0610 GMT: Economy Watch. Gholam Reza Mesbahi-Moghaddam, a key MP on the Economic Commission, has said that Parliament agrees with a halving of projected oil revenues in the 2013/14 Government budget.

The 2012/13 budget was based on an export of 2.3 million barrels per day, but Iran's sales fell to about half that amount.

The 2013/14 budget sets oil exports at 1.3 million bpd.

0550 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. With 2 1/2 months to go before the Presidential election, the fight between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other elements of the regime was waged on several fronts on Friday.

Leading politicians chose an economic battleground. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a candidate for June, declared the 70%-80% of Iran's problems were due to Government mismanagement. More significantly, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf --- a member of the "2+1 Committee", backed by the Supreme Leader, seeking an unity choice for the Presidency --- joined in: "We do not see damage from sanctions as much as we see damage from our incorrect decisions...Economic stability...[means] preferring the revolution's goals and the nation's success over [one's] own desires."

Leading Tehran Friday Prayers, Hojatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi issued the call for that unity choice, "The number of candidates should decrease". He asked those who have declared or are thinking of standing to "form a coalition with those who have have better circumstances and criteria".

Ahmadinejad and his choice for a successor, right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, reportedly countered with efforts to stage a rally of up to 100,000 people in Azadi Stadium in Tehran. The ceremony is ostensibly to honour staff who handle domestic travel arrangements.

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