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Hejazi Burial; Abadan Blast; Widening U.S. Sanctions

24 May 2011 23:40Comments
vh1.jpgPress 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.

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

Soccer legend Naser Hejazi, 62, ranked by the Asian Soccer Federation as the second best goalkeeper in Asia in the 20th century, passed away on Monday from lung cancer.

Hejazi was also a supporter of the Green Movement, though he never explicitly mentioned the movement. The Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope, the temporary leadership council while Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi are under house arrest, issued a statement of condolences to Hejazi's family and the people of Iran. It has asked the people to take part in his funeral on Wednesday. Hejazi was outspoken about the ills of the society, and freely spoke his mind. He always said that he will never accept anything that is forcefully imposed on him. When several months ago he was asked in a live nationally-televised program whether Iran's soccer was uncorrupted, he responded, "What is uncorrupted in our country that we expect soccer to be?" Just a few weeks ago, right before he fell into a coma, he loudly complained about the hardship that people were suffering as a result of the elimination of the subsidies and the resulting dramatic rise in the price of every essential item.

Hejazi's Wednesday funeral was supposed to begin at Shiroudi soccer stadium in central Tehran, but after many fans showed up at the hospital and shouted "Death to the dictator," the funeral ceremony was moved to Azadi Stadium on the western edge of Tehran, away from densely populated areas of the capital. Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, will be the Imam of the special prayer for Hejazi. In a message of condolence Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that "Naser Hejazi will forever live in the heart of the nation."

Photo: Hejazi, in button-down shirt, with Behrouz Vosooghi, Iran's leading male movie star of the 1970s (Iranian.com).

The United States has imposed sanctions against seven foreign firms that have traded with Iran in breach of an existing U.S. ban. Venezuela's state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), is among those targeted by the measures. Other companies include firms based in the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Singapore, Monaco, and Jersey.

An explosion blamed on a gas leak rocked Iran's largest refinery on Tuesday around the time of a visit to the Abadan plant by Ahmadinejad. There are conflicting reports about the time of the explosion. Some reports indicate that it occurred a few minutes after Ahmadinejad's visit, while other reports indicate that the explosion occurred while the president was still visiting the refinery. The refinery is in the city of Abadan in southern Iran; at one time it was considered the largest refinery in the world. Ahmadinejad visited the refinery to officially bring online a new unit of gasoline production. Reports indicate that at least four people have been killed and scores injured, including 20 who were badly burnt. Ahmadinejad and those who had accompanied him, were not hurt.

Alireza Zighami, who heads the refinery and distribution division of the National Iranian Oil Company, said that the damage will be repaired within two weeks. The cause of the explosion was reportedly leakage of natural gas from one of the units.

Hamid Reza Katouzian, head of the Majles Energy Commission, said that he had warned officials that if the new unit was opened prematurely, it might lead to an explosion. Katouzian said that he does not believe that terrorism was a factor. Emad Hosseini, spokesman for the Majles commission, and other members had also warned the government about starting the unit prematurely. Reports indicate that even Hassan Mehrban, the refinery's director, was not present during Ahmadinejad's visit, in order to protest the premature opening of the new unit. Mehrban announced that, due to the explosion, the new unit will not come online until further notice.

Ahmad Jannati, secretary-general of the Guardian Council, said, "Some people have abused their power and created a perverted group and, using illegitimate methods have amassed vast fortunes and now want to take control of the Majles in the upcoming elections," to be held on March 2, 2012. He added, "But what has happened has opened revolutionary groups' eyes about some people that they have been supporting." The "perverted team" is the name given by supporters of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, and his circle.

Fars, the news agency controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' intelligence unit, has reported new information about a $380 million contract granted by Mashaei and Hamid Baghaei, a close confidant of Ahmadinejad's and one of his eight vice presidents, to a newly founded company without any bidding, only two days after the company opened its doors. As reported by Tehran Bureau, the contract is for the construction of a conference center on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf at which the conference of nonaligned nations will be held in 2012. Fars alleges that the law that governs the granting of no-bid contracts has been violated. Another key figure in the episode is that Fars has revealed Ebrahim Azizi, former member of the Guardian Council. The contract has been used by the conservative critics of Ahmadinejad as the symbol of economic corruption in an administration whose main claim to fame when it first came to power in 2005 was fighting corruption.

The fissures within the regime are now affecting Ahmadinejad's own family. His son-in-law Mehdi Khorshidi, who has become a critic of the "perverted group," said that he is under tremendous pressure to resign from his post as head of the council of advisers to Ahmadinejad. Khorshidi said that the pressure is being exerted on him by Baghaei and, "Unfortunately, the perverted team has used the resources of the revolutionary government to expand its influence in the society to create a social base of support for itself. One example of it is distribution of the national wealth among problematic people who are supposedly actors." The reference is to a loan that Mashaei and Baghaei provided to actress Hadiyeh Tehrani in 2009 to set up an arts exhibition.

Davood Ahmadinejad, the president's older brother and a commander in the Revolutionary Guards, said, "I have extensive documents about the 'perverted group' that [indicate that] this group wanted to implement its plan, elimination of Velaayat-e Faghih" -- the doctrine of guardianship of the Islamic jurist, represented by the Supreme Leader -- from the political system. When asked about the depth of corruption by the "perverted group," the elder Ahmadinejad responded, "I do not wish to name anyone, but right now this group is at the forefront of large-scale corruption in the society. One cannot have any better interpretation of what they do. They are involved in a variety of corruption, both economic and political. I will reveal part of the documents that are not classified in my future speeches." When asked about the legality of the president's recent actions regarding the merger of eight ministries into four, the elder Ahmadinejad did not respond.

In his weekly press conference, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, the national prosecutor and judiciary spokesman, said that the judiciary is pursuing a complaint by the Majles against the administration, though he did not specify what the complaint was about. Ejei confirmed that Mrs. Parivash Satvati, widow of Dr. Hossein Fatemi, who was foreign minister in the administration of Mohammad Mosaddegh and was executed by the Shah's regime in November 1954, has been released from detention. She was arrested a short time ago as part of the crackdown on Mashaei's associates.

The website of the Center for Islamic Revolution Documents claims that Mashaei will soon be arrested. The website asserts that the current crisis in the country has been created by the "perverted team" and the inner circle of Ahmadinejad, and then asks, "Will the president separate his way from this group, and do what most of his supporters expect him to do? The answer to this question will become clear in the coming days." The center is headed by cleric Ruhollah Hossenian, a former Intelligence Ministry official and current Majles deputy. Hossenian, who has been an ardent supporter of Ahmadinejad's, has been totally silent over the past few weeks.

Several hardline Majles deputies warned Ahmadinejad that he must break with Mashaei. Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash, who supports Ahmadinejad, said, "I only say to the dear president, who has been the hardest-working president over the last 32 years, to clean up his surroundings, so that what happened to that high official during the time of the Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] will not happen to him." He was referring to Abolhassan Ban Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic, who was impeached in June 1981. Another supporter, Ali Asghar Zarei, said, "If Ahmadinejad wants to continue receiving the support of the Supreme Leader, the structure of his government must be returned to his first term. But since Mr. Mashaei joined the office of the president, there have many many interventions in various affairs. He must be removed; this is one of our demands of the president." Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, leader of the clerics' bloc in the Majles and a supporter of Ahmadinejad, said, "We have two tasks. One is to inform the people about the perversion of this group; it appears that people understand this, and this group has reached a dead end. The second task is [to ask] the judiciary to pursue the case of this perverted group." Mousa Ghorbani, member of the principlist bloc in the Majles, said, "The perversion of these people [Mashaei's group] has been proven. The judiciary is investigating them, and some of them are in jail."

Three websites that support Ahmadinejad, Azadi News, Nahal News, and Aeen News, have been blocked, apparently as a consequence of the recent confrontation pitting Ahmadinejad and his supporters against Khamenei and his group.

Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, commander of the Basij forces, said that both the Army and the Revolutionary Guards support Ahmadinejad and there is no division between them. "The rumor that the Army and Sepah [the Guards] have different positions regarding Ahmadinejad is a creation of the enemy," Naghdi said.

A group of industrial executives has written a letter to Ahmadinejad complaining about the elimination of subsidies and the dramatic rise in energy prices. The executives warn that unless the government subsidizes energy costs for their factories, they will be forced to lay off a large number of workers.

A Central Bank report indicates that since 2005, when Ahmadinejad was elected president, 730,000 jobs in the agriculture sector have been eliminated, while the service sector has employed more people. The government has claimed that 1.6 million new jobs were created last year, but Central Bank statistics indicate that 500,000 of those were temporary positions with one large government construction project.

There has recently been much speculation that Ahmadinejad, who has appointed himself acting oil minister, will attend the next meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and preside over it, as Iran has assumed presidency of the group. But Seyyed Reza Mir Taj ol-ddini, vice president for parliamentary affairs, said that Ahmadinejad will send another member of his administration to the OPEC meeting to chair the session. The meeting will take place on June 25. This is the first time in 36 years that Iran will lead OPEC.

Morteza Tamaddon, governor-general of Tehran province, said that a peaceful march of "a million people" will soon occur in Tehran. The march is ostensibly in support of those who through their charitable work have helped build more schools, but the hardliners have interpreted this as an attempt by Ahmadinejad and his supporters to test the strength of their social base. According to Nedaaye Enghelab, a hardline website, "In recent weeks the perverted group has tried to bring out its supporters to the streets in a show of strength, but people have been reluctant. Ahmadinejad's team has illusions [about its popularity], and is nearing its end."

Kazem Jalali, spokesman for the Majles Commission on National Security and Foreign Policy, announced the names of five Americans who will be sanctioned by Iran due to their involvement in human rights violations. They are General Tommy Franks, who commanded the U.S. forces that invaded Iraq in 2003; Jeffrey Harrison, who supposedly heads the Guantanamo Bay prison, although no one with that name appears to work there; L. Paul Bremer, former U.S. proconsul in Iraq after its occupation; Richard Perle, the neoconservative former assistant secretary of defense; and William C. Rogers, captain of the USS Vincennes, which shot down an Iranian passenger airplane in 1988 over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 people on board.

A military court in Tehran has sentenced 40 university students to a total of ten years of imprisonment. A few days after the presidential election of 2009, vigilante groups and plainclothes intelligence agents attacked the dormitory of the University of Tehran, during which up to seven students were murdered. Instead of punishing the attackers, as was promised, a group of students have been "convicted."

The Bahraini newspaper Al-Watan reports that Bahrain has stopped importing natural gas from Iran, due to what it called Iranian intervention in its internal affairs. At the same time, Iran's ambassador to Kuwait has returned there, after Iran withdrew him a year ago. The two simultaneous events indicate that there is a difference of opinion among the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf about what to do with Iran.

The European Union has approved a list of 100 Iranian officials and entities that are to be sanctioned. Large industrial complexes, such as Sadra and Neda companies, several organs linked to the Revolutionary Guards, such as the Ta'avon, Mehr, and Ansar banks, and several other financial institutions and shipping lines are included. Four vice presidents of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran -- Mohammad Ahmadian, Naser Rastkhah, Behzad Soltani, and Masoud Akhavanfar -- and Mohammad Hossein Dajmar, who oversees Iran's fleet of civilian ships, are also to be sanctioned. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called the new sanctions "irrational."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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