Iran's Presidential race has, in many ways, turned into a contest not only between the eight individual candidates but perhaps even more so between the Principlist/ Conservative and the Reformist/Moderate camps.
Although Friday's Third Presidential debate was an opportunity for the candidates to set out their views and policies on foreign policy and politics, it also provided a space to explore this factional divide.
Principlist and conservative candidates --- Ali Akbar Velayati, Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, Gholam-Ali Haddad- Adel -- used the debate to criticize the Reformists and past Reformist governments, while Reformist candidate Mohammad-Reza Aref and his moderate counterpart Hassan Rouhani slammed the Principlist movement and the current Ahmadinejad administration. Independent candidates Mohsen Rezaei and Mohammad Gharazi hit out at both factions and called for an end to factionalism.
Supporters of Reformist Mohammad Reza Aref Call For Coalition with Moderate Hassan Rouhani
Speaking on the anniversary of the death of his predecessor, Imam Khomeini, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, warned that through the use of sanctions and negative press against the regime, the country’s enemies seek to decrease the number of voters in the upcoming presidential election. Khamenei stated that the Iranian people should work together for a massive turnout to crush the plots of the enemies.
PressTV is broadcasting --- and translating into English --- the final televised debate between the eight candidates here. EA will be providing a full review of the debate later today.
Amid growing rumors of a possible coalition between moderate candidate Hassan Rouhani and his reformist counterpart Mohammad-Reza Aref --- a move that would unite centrist and reformist voters and avoid a dilution of support for Rouhani --- Fars News, close to the Revolutionary Guards, reports that such a move could be announced as soon as Saturday.
Fars reports comments by Mohsen Mehralizadeh, vice president under the government of President Khatami, who said that Aref is the only reformist candidate in the Presidential race --- but that because Rouhani is a moderate, he could join Aref in a coalition. There had been considerable discussion on the matter with political leaders including former Presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani.
Supporters of Prime Minister Erdogan at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport last night (Photo: Reuters)
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used a speech this afternoon to continue his challenge to protesters. He has also attacked social media, saying they carried out a "disastrous lie campaign with respect to" the demonstrations.
Erdogan has also asked, "Where was the outrage over [police use of tear gas?" in other cases like Occupy Wall Street --- where he said 17 people had been killed --- Greece, and London.
An audio recording purportedly from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, calls on jihadi groups in Syria to prevent the establishment of a pro-US regime in the country.
In the message, published on the internet on Thursday, urges the "Lions of Islam in ash-Sham [the Levant] to gather and unite" above sectarian issues, saying that "America and its agents" want you to shed your blood… to bring down the criminal Baathist regime and then to set up a regime loyal to them that will guarantee Israel's security".
The message goes on to say that jihad in Syria aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in the country, and then condemns Iran for desiring "Safavid expansion". The Mujahadeen of as-Sham have "exposed the ugly face of Iran…and its heinous crimes", al-Zawahiri says.
Footage from Al-Mayadeen TV of the regime capture of Qusayr
Qusayr did not resolve the Syrian conflict. It only highlighted that resolution is distant.
The regime is unlikely to alter this with victory in one town, achieved only with substantial help from Hezbollah. Whether the insurgency and the "West" can do so is the more intriguing scenario.
Defying protesters, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stood firm on the re-development of Istanbul's Gezi Park --- he said the construction of a replica Ottoman-era military barracks, housing a shopping mall, will go ahead.
Erdogan spoke from Tunisia during his tour of North African countries.
While Iranians are preoccupied with the Presidential campaign, including Wednesday's second debate among the eight candidates, another story --- one likely to have impact far beyond the June ballot --- has been taking shape.
In the last 10 days, the US Government has expanded sanctions against Tehran on four occasions. Those measures have not only reinforced existing restrictions on the energy and shipping sectors; they have extended into areas far removed from Iran's nuclear programme. Among the new steps, confirmed by President Obama's executive orders, are sanctions against the automobile and petrochemical industries.
Even more significant is the ratcheting-up of measures designed to cripple Iran's financial transactions. One of Obama's orders this week threatens punishment of any firm trading in Iranian Rials or even holding Rial accounts --- the step is no less than an attempt to collapse the currency, which fell 70% last year.
All of this is taking place as Iran's oil exports continue to fall to historic lows. In April, the Islamic Republic exported only 741,000 barrels per day, a 30% decline from March and less than 1/3 the amount sold in 2011.
Meanwhile, the US, Israel, and European allies are banging the drum loudly over Tehran's purported nuclear threats. Over the last week, there has been a series of "leaks" to compliant journalists, recycling old stories as new menaces --- notable among these have been stories about Iran's developing heavy-water reactor at Arak, converted in the articles to a producer of plutonium for a Bomb.
All of this begs the question: is Washington going beyond pressure on Iran to the pursuit of regime change, through the cracking of the economy? If so, does the US have a vision of who and what might succeed the downfall of the current system?
The Tehran election office of moderate Presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani has said that there could be a possibility of a coalition between Rouhani and reformist candidate Mohammad-Reza Aref in the coming days.
ISNA reported that the coalition was likely to be announced soon.
Moderate Presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani has mentioned detained opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi in two separate tweets.
A Kurdish activist group claims that Kurds in Efrin near Aleppo in northern Syria are suffering because of an ongoing siege by the Free Syrian Army.
Activists on Wednesday tweeted images purportedly of breadlines in the town.
Huge bread crisis in Efrin near Aleppo with huge lines on the only remaining bakery in the town. twitter.com/omarsyria/stat…— Omar (@omarsyria) June 5, 2013
There were sustained reports last month of clashes between the FSA and local Kurdish militia.
Claimed footage, from "Daraa City" activists, of insurgents evacuating women and children from Qusayr
Reuters, citing an "opposition group" from Qusayr, said more than 500 insurgents died in the three weeks of the regime assault, with a further 1,000 wounded, leaving just 400 outgunned men struggling to hold onto the town.
Survivors decided to escape in the night through a corridor that regime attackers said they had deliberately left open to encourage flight.
Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem said, “The Al-Qusayr accomplishment is a severe blow to the project of the American-Israeli-Takfiri [infidel] trio and a glowing point for the project of the resistance in Syria.
Qassem continued, “Today, it has been proven that betting on the fall of the resisting Syrian [regime] is an illusion....Building political stances on the accomplishments of the American-Israeli project is unsuccessful.”