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Iran Live: Will Iranians Celebrate "Islamic Republic Day"?

Iranians vote in the referendum establishing the Islamic Republic, March 1979

1722 GMT: Relief Watch. Digarban reports that the Supreme Leader's office and the Revolutionary Guards are increasing assistance to the poor.

The Guards' naval division distributed more than 10,000 New Year's packets in southern and southeastern Iran, while Ayatollah Khamenei's office gave one month of aid to 27,000 people in North Khorasan Province in northeastern Iran.

1102 GMT: Election Watch. It looks like Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei is making a double power-play this morning.

We reported in the previous entry what appears to be a manoeuvre by Rezaei's Tabnak site to diminish the Presidential candidacy of Minister of Roads Ali Nikzad, who may be the "Plan B" candidate of Preisdent Ahmadinejad's camp.

Even more interesting, however, is an apparent Rezaei/Tabnak move against Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, a possible candidate and member of the Supreme Leader's "2+1" Committee seeking a "unity" choice for June's election.

Tabnak claims that the Guardian Council will not approve Qalibaf as a candidate. It cites "State media" for the assertion, but we have no such report elsewhere.

Our interpretation --- at this point --- is that this may be part of a power struggle within the Revolutionary Guards over the election. Rezaei is a former head of the Guards, and Qalibaf was also a high-leevel commander.

If so, will others -- including the Supreme Leader's office --- step in?

1049 GMT: Election Watch. Yesterday we opened Live Coverage with the newe that Minister of Roads Ali Nikzad, a leading member of President Ahmadinejad's camp, had announced his candidacy for President. We read this as a "Plan B" for Ahmadinejad and his allies --- they are guarding against the rejection by the Guardian Council of the President's top choice, right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

This morning, a curious development....

Tabnak --- the outlet of Presidential candidate and Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei --- claims from a "pro-Government website", Roshanee News, that Nikzad told an unnamed senior government official he had "no intention of running in the elections".

The source said Nikzad, following his announcement in Ardebil in northwest Iran, told officials that he had only meant he would turn out to vote, as was the duty of every Iranian.

0756 GMT: Smuggling Watch. Reuters profiles an outcome of the sanctions and Tehran's economic situation, "Iran Sanctions Spur Boom for Pakistani Diesel Smugglers":

For years, diesel smuggled from Iran has supplemented the 2.7 million to 3 million tons (20 million to 22 million barrels) of diesel that Pakistan's state oil company buys from the Kuwait Petroleum Corp each year.

The illegal trade cooled in late 2010 when Iran cut fuel subsidies, narrowing profit margins for importers. But smugglers have gone into overdrive since late September, when growing pressure from Western sanctions caused the Iranian rial to lose forty per cent of its value against the dollar in a week, making diesel even cheaper for Pakistani buyers.

Iran sets its diesel price at 4,500 Iranian rials a liter, (about 15 U.S. cents at the open market rate) --- less than the price of mineral water. In Pakistan, a liter of smuggled diesel can sell for 104 rupees a liter ($1.06) -- cheaper than the official price of 112 rupees a liter.

In Baluchistan, diesel dealers are making so much cash that some passenger transporters are trading in buses to buy pick-up trucks sturdy enough to make the journey to the frontier across river fords and forbidding escarpments.

0746 GMT: Don't Mention the Trial. An intriguing article from State news agency IRNA, which loudly proclaims that the Social Security Fund will increase pensions by 25% this year.

The rise is not the intriguing part of the story. Instead, it lies in what is not said. IRNA posts the letter to the President from Ahmadinejad advisor Saeed Mortazavi, the head of the Fund, and features his photograph.

At no point, however, does IRNA mentions that courts have ordered the removal of Mortazavi from his post. Nor does it note that Mortazavi is currently on trial, accused of involvement in the abuse and murder of three post-election protesters in summer 2009 in the Kahrizak detention centre.

0732 GMT: Economy Watch. The interesting ripple in coverage this morning is in Khabar Online, linked to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani --- there is no mention in the headlines of "Islamic Republic Day"; instead, the site focuses on Sunday's declaration of an official rate of inflation of 31.5% by the Statistics Center, the highest declared rate since 1996.

Indeed, Khabar goes farther with a series of articles pointing to an even higher rate, including predictions by MPs of inflation in the year ahead and a critique by an analyst of the reasons for the rising prices.

0720 GMT: Playing Up a Celebration. There is little hard news out of Iran this morning. Instead, State and semi-official media put out declarations of the 34th anniversary of "Islamic Republic Day", the proclamation of the new system after a referendum following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Fars English cheers, "Massive celebrations were held across the country." So far it has only no images, and Press TV and State news agency IRNA rely on archive pictures from 34 years ago

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