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Cholera Outbreak; Raging Inflation; Ayatollah Taleghani Remembered

11 Sep 2011 02:48Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

2:50 a.m., 20 Shahrivar/September 11 There has been an outbreak of cholera in different cities of Iran, which Ministry of Health authorities say has been contained and controlled. There have been reports of fatalities; however, at least one report from Zanjan, 200 miles west of Tehran, was later denied by Haji Karimi, head of the city's Vali Asr Hospital in an interview with ISNA (the Iranian Students' News Agency). Still the authorities have issued warnings asking the population to be vigilant. (Update: Sept. 25: The medical school of Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran has identified 121 cases of people with cholera, two of whom have died. The medical school is in charge of monitoring medical developments and diseases in about ten million people in and around Tehran.)

In a public appearance, Dr. Marzieh Vahid Dastejerdi, the minister of health, asked Iranians to be careful with fruits and vegetables. She asked families to boil their water and described a four-step procedure for handling and washing produce they buy on the streets. She told ISNA that the cholera bacteria has been transferred to Iran through foreign workers, particularly seasonal workers from Pakistan.

In an interview with Fars News Agency, Hossein Ali Shahriari, a Majles deputy and the head of its Health Committee, said, "Cholera outbreaks are common during summer. During this season many workers from neighboring countries come to work in farms and orchards." He added, "Unfortunately the hygiene standards are not high among this group and many come from Pakistan where cholera is common." He also asked Iranian citizens to be careful in sanitizing their food.

***

Abbas Vatanparvar, former employer representative to the International Labor Organization, said the poverty line in the country's metropolitan areas stands at $1,600. He said that is expected to be raised to $2,000 by the end of the current Iranian calendar year.

Vataparvar said that the rate of inflation is escalating by the day. "During the first six months of the [Persian] year [that began March 21], the rate of inflation has increased by 50 percent. With the start of the targeted subsidy plan, due to the increase in the price of fuel, the country's production units have been in crisis."

***

Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

Saturday was the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Alaei Taleghani, who passed away in 1979. (He is seen on the homepage in an image from that year, leading a prayer. To his right, in the unbuttoned jacket, is Sadegh Ghotbzadeh.) Born in 1910, his first political protest was in 1939 when he issued a statement against Reza Shah. He was a progressive cleric, immensely popular, particularly among the youth, and an ardent supporter of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh. Together with Mehdi Bazargan and Dr. Yadollah Sahabi, Taleghani founded the Liberation Movement of Iran in 1961. Taleghani spent years in jail during the dictatorship of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, and played a leading role in the 1979 Revolution. He was against the theocracy based on Velaayat-e Faghih (guardianship of the Islamic jurist, represented by the Supreme Leader), and warned against dictatorship of the clerics in his last Friday Prayer sermon two days before he passed away (see video above). Seyyed Kazem Akrami, who was education minister in the administration of Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 1980s, said that if Taleghani had not died when he did, Iran's Constitution would not have incorporated dictatorship as it does.

The heads of the three branches of the political system, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani, and Majles Speaker Ali Larijani met together on Saturday for nearly four hours. But, they did not answer any questions asked by the reporters at the end of the meeting. No information is available on what was discussed during the meeting.

The row between the principlists and the more hardline elements over the upcoming Majles election has continued. The factions are led by Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, the reactionary cleric who was recently instrumental in founding of the Jebheh Paaydaari Enghelab-e Eslami (JPEE, or the Durability Front of the Islamic Revolution), which consists of former ministers of Ahmadinejad and some of his supporters in the Majles, and the rest of the Principlists that are headed by Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kanni, chairman of the Assembly of Experts. The latter group has formed the so-called 8+7 Committee that consists of representatives of various factions.

The JPEE was invited to send a representative to the committee, but it has set conditions for doing so. Hamid Rasaei, a hardline cleric, Majles deputy, and leading figure in the JPEE said that his group wants Ali Larijani and Deputy Majles Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar to be expelled from the committee, before a representative of the JPEE participates in the committee's meetings. He added that Bahonar has supported Mir Hossein Mousavi on several occasions and that Larijani did not have a transparent position regarding the Green Movement. At the same time, former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was appointed secretary-general of the committee.

Nader Ghazipour, a principlist Majles deputy, said, "We have not yet concluded that the JPEE has repented." He added, referring to the 11 days at the height of the conflict over Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi during which the president boycotted the meetings of his own cabinet, "The position of the JPEE regarding Ahmadinejad not going to work is not clear. Their position regarding the 'perverted group' is not clear. They want to go their own way, and are opposed to unity [with the principlists]."

Cleric Ahmad Salek, spokesman for the Society of Militant Clerics (SMC), the main conservative group of the clerics, warned that the differences between the principlists will only benefit the fetneh (sedition, code name for the Green Movement) and the perverted group. He said, "Some in the JPEE have wanted to abuse the situation.... Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani has said that unity in the broadest term may not be possible, but we want to form a coalition between various thinking among the Principlists." He emphasized that the SMC supports such a coalition.

Hardline Majles deputy and member of the JPEE Mehdi Koochakzadeh said that he cannot be in a list of candidates for the Majles elections, if the list is organized by Bahonar. After quoting Imam Ali that, "If someone's actions put him behind [the society], his family roots [background] will not advance him," Koochakzadeh said, "We are told, what do you have to say against the 80 years old statesman [Mahdavi Kani]? You [Koochakzadeh] have been in politics only a few years [thus unqualified to be against Kani].... Some people refer to the 8+7 Committee, and then accuse others [the JPEE] of being anti-Velaayat-e Faghih. Unfortunately, even some people who have been in politics 50-60 years [meaning Kani] also say the same."

At the same time, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a Majles deputy, father-in-law of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's son, Mojtaba, and a leading figure in the 8+7 Committee, warned that if the principlists do not set aside their differences, the next Majles will be similar to the Sixth Majles (2000-4) that was controlled by the Reformists. Given that it is unlikely that the Reformists will run in the Majles election, Haddad Adel's warning seems to be about the possibility that the next parliament may be controlled by the supporters of the "perverted group," code name for the inner circle of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and his close confidant.

Then, Mohammad Nabi Habibi, secretary-general of the Islamic Coalition Party that is part of the 8+7 Committee, said that competition between the principlists is like poison for them. He implicitly criticized the JPEE by saying that the principlists must organize their activities under the leadership of the SMC and not other clerics, such as Mesbah Yazdi.

Esmail Gerami-Moghaddam, a spokesman for Mehdi Karroubi's National Trust Party, said that, in a recent meeting between Karroubi and his family, he told his son Hossein that he has watched the speeches of "high officials of the state [including Khamenei], and believes that there is no place for the reformists in the upcoming Majles elections. The competition will be between the various factions of the principlists." Earlier, Mousavi had also said that he has no hopes for the elections, given the repressive environment.

In another maneuver for the elections, Ahmadinejad announced that the government should be able to triple the cash handouts that it distributes to the people in lieu of the subsidies that have either been eliminated or reduced. This provoked a strong reaction. Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, who was Ahmadinejad's first interior minister and now heads the National Organization for Inspection (which oversees the government's operations) said that, instead of promising people that it will triple the cash handouts, it is better for the government to solve the problems in the manufacturing sector. He added that there are not enough resources to increase the cash handouts.

Then Rasaei said that the JPEE has assembled an archive of the positions and opinions of 474 political figures regarding the sedition (Green Movement) and the "perverted current." He claimed that many of the 474 people were either silent or took ambiguous positions. This appears to be an attempt by the JPEE to discredit many of the principlists, taking advantage of what Mahdavi Kani said recently. He said that the principlist candidates must have transparent positions and opinions about both the Green Movement and the "perverted group."

Javan, a mouthpiece of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, claimed that Ahmadinejad and his team are trying to form a joint bloc with Saudi Arabia. Javan claimed that the leaders of the "perverted group" have said that the current conditions in the region have provided the best opportunity for the formation of the block.

In an editorial, Kayhan, the mouthpiece of a faction of the security forces, claimed that Khamenei is opposed to elections whose results are clear even before the vote. Kayhan, which has been trying to exonerate Khamenei for helping Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election, now that the two men are in opposing camps, claimed that Khamenei has said that "we have a duty to protect the people's vote."

Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic Ahmad Tavakoli announced that he will send certain documents to the Guardian Council that prove financial corruption on the part of some deputies. The Council vets the candidates for the Majles elections, and Tavakoli said that by providing the documents he intends to prevent the approval of their candidacy for the elections. Tavakoli also said that he does not agree with some of the things that Ali Larijani (his maternal first cousin) does, "but I work with him anyway."

Majles deputy Ali Motahari said that neither the legislative branch nor the judiciary is independent. He added that the judiciary cannot, for example, investigate important cases of corruption because, for example, Ahmadinejad protested it. As an example, of lack of independence of the Majles, Motahari mentioned the fact that the deputies were prevented from summoning Ahmadinejad to the Majles to question him.

Davood Ahmadinejad, older brother of the president and a Revolutionary Guard officer, said that the "perverted group" is corrupted financially, politically, and morally. In a meeting in Shahrood, the elder Ahmadinejad said that the group wants to stand up to Khamenei, but that "we never allow them to hurt this God-given gift [Khamenei], or challenge the political system and deviate it from its [true] path."

A report indicates that eight people that are associated with Mashaei have been put on trial. The names of the eight have not been publicized.

Minister of Labor and Social Security Abdolreza Shaeikholeslami said that the rate of unemployment among university graduates is ten time higher than among those who have a high school diploma or even a lower degree.

Naser Shabani, a senior Guard officer, said that two military commanders of the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), together with seven other members, have been captured by the Guards. According to him, the captured fighters have provided considerable information about where PJAK stores its armaments and ammunition. Since mid-July, the Guards have been on an offensive, trying to root out PJAK forces in Iran, and destroy their bases inside Iraqi Kurdistan. PJAK has been listed as a terrorist organization by the United States State Department. PJAK has proposed a ceasefire, but the Guards have rejected the offer, demanding the details of the proposal.

At the same time, while the Guards do not officially announce its casualties, reports indicate that at least 20 Guards have been killed in the fighting with PJAK forces. The number is an estimate based on the funerals that have been held in recent days for Guards personnel in various locations around the country, and reported by various news agencies, such as Fars and ISNA. Among those killed is Brigadier General Abbas Ali Jannesari, commander of missile and air defense system in Isfahan, whose funeral will be held on Sunday.

A military airplane, which was being used for training, crashed inside the city of Tabriz. Apparently, it was trying to land in Tabriz's airport, but missed it and crashed at Azerbaijan Square near the airport. The pilot has apparently escaped without injuries. Since last week Iran has been staging an air maneuver in that area.

The Assembly of Experts met for two days last week and issued a statement that while it condemned "the intervention of foreign forces in Bahrain," a reference to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, it did not do the same for Syria. This is while the government and Khamenei have consistently claimed that foreign governments incite the demonstrations in Syria. This may be another part of the subtle shift in the position of hardliners regarding Syria.

Prominent attorney Abdolfattah Soltani, who has represented many political prisoners and has been highly active in the defense of human rights in Iran, was arrested Saturday afternoon. Masoumeh Dehghan, Soltani's wife, told the BBC that she does not know where her husband was taken to, nor does she know why he was arrested. Soltani has been arrested several times over the past few years.

Four political prisoners have been released:

* Hashem Khastar, a retired teacher in Mashhad who made revelations about the terrible conditions of Vakilabad Prison there, was released after posting bail of about $100,000.

* Journalist Masoud Lavasani, who was arrested on September 26, 2009. He was originally sentenced to eight and a half years of imprisonment, which was later reduced to two years.

* Moein Mohammad Beigi, a university student activist, who served 50 percent of his two-and-a-half-year sentence.

* Nima Pour Yaghoob, an activist at the University of Tabriz, who was arrested three months ago.

In a letter from prison, Ali Malihi, a member of the policy committee of the Organization of University Graduate said that he testifies that none of the people who have recently been released from prison expressed regrets over their beliefs, and that none asked for clemency. He denied that he will be released soon, and said that some of the released political prisoners only used the laws to reduce their sentences, so that they can be released.

Javid Fakhrian, a member of the Muslim Student Association of the Islamic Azad University campus in Shahr-e Kord, and a head of the cyberspace division of a youth group that supported Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 2009 election, has been sentenced to one year of imprisonment. He was arrested in February and detained for 33 days. He was previously arrested in November 2009.

Three nationalist-religious figures, Dr. Ghaffar Farzdi, Dr. Sadri, and Pour Azhari, have been put on trial in Tabriz. Farzdi is a member of the Liberation Movement of Iran and has been imprisoned three times.

Al-Arabiya, the website that reflects the views of Saudi Arabia, claimed that a soldier who deserted from the Syrian army has provided information about the participation of Iranian forces in the crackdown on the protests in Syria. The soldier has claimed that Iranian sharp shooters have been stationed on the roofs of buildings in various cities, and that he recognized them based on the accent with which they spoke Arabic, and the fact that they always wore black outfits.

In an interview with the Guardian, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for regime change in Iran (and Syria). He blamed Iran for prolonging the war in Iraq after U.S. and British forces invaded it in March 2003. Blair warned that the Middle East would be "very, very badly" destabilized if Iran acquired nuclear weapons. "Regime change in Tehran would immediately make me significantly more optimistic about the whole of the region. If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons capability it would destabilize the region very, very badly. They continue to support groups that are engaged with terrorism and the forces of reaction. In Iraq one of the main problems has been the continued intervention of Iran and likewise in Afghanistan," Blair told the Guardian, saying also that he was open to a military attack on Iran if it comes close to acquiring nuclear missiles, but made it clear that he was not advocating a military strike.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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