Wednesday, July 11, 2007

News from Iran

The government clampdown on dissent and its decision to ration gasoline dominated the coverage in the Iranian media. In the past few weeks the Iranian government has started a massive crack down on pro-reform press, student organizations, labor unions, former high-level government officials, Iranian-American personalities visiting the country, and the restive public. On the economy front, President Ahmadinejad rejected a proposal to allow drivers who reached their limit to purchase more fuel at a higher price. The authorities also arrested over 80 people for damaging gas stations during protests against fuel rationing. A former oil minister confirmed published reports that Iran’s oil production is rapidly depleting due to lack of foreign investment. Iran can loose all its oil export revenues by 2014 if no new investment were available to expand the oil production.

Crackdown on Dissent
· On 2 July, the government closed down the pro-reform daily Ham-Mihan and suspended the activities of the independent news agency ILNA.
· On 10 July, the government ordered the final closure of ILNA.
· On 5 July, the police special forces stormed the top-ranked Polytechnic University and arrested 11 student leaders. The student leaders have been transferred to the notorious Evin Prison.
· On 10 July, Masour Osanloo, a labor union leader, was kidnapped near his house. It is widely believed that the plain-cloth men who picked him up were the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence.
· In the past month, four Iranian-Americans personalities visiting the country have been charged with promoting velvet revolution in Iran and three of them are kept at Evin Prison.
· In May, the government arrested Hossein Mossavian, the country’s former nuclear negotiator and a close ally of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani. Mossavian has since been accused of espionage.
· On 9 July, the Intelligence Ministry announced the arrest of 20 people who allegedly were part of a spy network.
· On 27 June, authorities arrested 80 people on the charge of damaging gas stations during protests against fuel rationing.

In December, the people will elect the 8th Majlis (Iranian parliament). In June 2009, the people will elect the 10th president of the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad and fundamentalist groups want to hold on power in Majlis and Ahmadinejad himself wants to be reelected as president. The pro-reform press, the student leaders and union activist, the former high-level officials in Rafsanjani and Khatami administrations, including the Three Ayatollahs (Rafsanjani, Khatami and Karubi), the Iranian-American pro-reform personalities and anyone protesting against the government is now viewed as enemy. To get reelected and to keep Majlis in his camp, Ahmadinejad needs to defeat the alliance formed by the pro-reform movement. The five months left to the parliamentary elections may well prove the most challenging period for proponents of reform and democracy in Iran.

Other Domestic Storylines
· President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decided against a proposal to allow motorists to purchase more gasoline than their rations at free market price; Ahmadinejad said doing so would push up the country’s inflation rate to unaccepted levels; he said setting a free market price for gas under the present circumstances is a “killer poison” for the country's economy; the gasoline ration of about one gallon per day per car went into effect earlier in the month; a number of officials, including the Minister of Energy, had previously said that the drivers who reached their limit would be able to purchase more fuel at a higher price.
· Iranian authorities announced the arrest of 80 persons on the charge of damaging gas stations and looting shops during protests against fuel rationing.
· Four trucks smuggling gasoline our of Iran crashed into each other and caught fire in southeastern country, killing 13 people; the trucks crashed near the Pakistan border; fuel smuggling from Iran to neighboring countries is common because the country has one of the lowest fuel prices in the region.
· Iran’s former oil minister Akbar Torkan said Iran produces four million bpd of crude oil, but without new investment, five percent of this production capacity will be gone every year; Torkan was confirming published reports that Iran was in danger of loosing its oil exports by 2014 if no new foreign investment were attracted to work in the country’s oil fields; US sanctions prohibit American and foreign companies to invest in Iranian oil and gas industry.
· A man convicted of adultery was stoned to death in Aghchekand, 124 miles west of Tehran; the spokesman for the judiciary did not elaborate on how the stoning was carried out; The execution came two weeks after the Iranian officials had delayed carrying out the sentence against Jafar Kiani and after the head of the Judiciary had said that the sentence will not be carried out; Kiani’s female companion, Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, who also was sentenced to death by stoning is still in prison.

The Nuclear Program
· IAEA Chief Mohammad ElBaradei said Iran has slowed down the expansion of its nuclear enrichment capabilities at Natanz ; Hamid Reza Haji Babaei, a member of the National Security Committee of Majlis (Iranian parliament), denied reports that Iran had slowed down the pace of its nuclear activities at Natanz facility; Haji Babaei said Iran had not agreed with anyone to reduce its uranium enrichment activities; he added that uranium enrichment was regarded as the red line for Iran and that all previous nuclear activities are still continuing and at the same pace.
· Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to IAEA, said that Iran expects that the new round of talks between EU foreign policy chief and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator will lead to conclusive results; Soltanieh welcomed EU “new trend” in favoring negotiations on Iran’s nuclear standoff.
· President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected any talks of uranium enrichment suspension as part of an agreement with EU to head off a showdown with the West over the country’s nuclear program.
· An IAEA delegation, headed by the agency’s deputy chief, arrived in Tehran.

Regional Storylines
· The leader of an Al Qaida in Iraq warned Iran in a new audiotape to stop supporting the Shia in Iraq; Al Qaida warned Iran would face a ''severe war'' if it continued its support of the Shia.
· Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said that the five Iranians diplomats detained by US forces in Iraq complained about poor conditions during their meeting with Iranian ambassador to Iraq; Hosseini said the detainees have access to minimum facilities and were under psychological pressure by their US captors; Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qumi and three other Iranian diplomats had a five-hour meeting with the detainees for the first time since their arrest.
· Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini denied published reports that Iran had played a big role in Hamas's seizure of Gaza from Palestinian security forces.
· Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the three islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu-Musa are an inseparable and eternal part of the soil of the Islamic Republic of Iran; Hosseini criticized the statement issued at the conclusion of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh backing UAE’s claims on the three islands.

No comments: