Tehran clashes — Pictures like this are now being posted purporting to show clashes today in Tehran after a gathering at the Ghoba mosque (there is of course no way to authenticate them). Several reports have appeared of the gathering called by Moussavi to mourn victims of last week’s clashes. Estimates of the size range from 3,000 to 50,000. One report spoke of tear gas being used as some mourners clashed with security officials, and this was later backed up by AP. Although Moussavi had previously announced the gathering was legal, the M&C website quoted Hossein Tala, Tehran’s governor, as saying no request has been made for any gathering “so any event would be illegal”. However that state news agency picked up on Moussavi’s call for the gathering also to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the assassination of Ayatollah Beheshti. According to the EarthTimes report, mourners shouted “Beheshti, where are you, Mir-Hossein has been left alone”. But CNN’s report said the gathering was largely silent, with mourners telling each other to walk slowly and drag their feet. The Los Angeles Times, quoting a witness “who has previously provided accurate information”, said the rally was attended by Mehdi Karroubi, Mousavi’s wife and the daughter and wife of Ayatollah Rafsanjani. The witness said the Basij and plainclothes security officials surrounded the mourners on their motorbikes and that Mousavi himself addressed the gathering by cellphone. The report decsribed one female protester, covered completely by a black chador, taunting the police. “Who are you?” she demanded, according to the witness. “Are you Muslims?”
UK embassy staff arrested — Iran’s row with Britain intensified with the arrest of eight British embassy staff in Tehran. PressTV said the eight were held for”‘inflaming post-election tensions” and the semi-official Fars news agency said they had played a significant part in the unrest. PressTV later reported that some had been freed but the rest would remain in custody. It quoted Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei as saying: “We have photos and videos of certain local employees of the British Embassy, who collected news about the protests. The Embassy sent its local staff to rallies and inculcated ideas into the protestors and the society.” According to the Los Angeles Times all eight were from the embassy’s political section. Authorities with a search warrant held at least one of them at his home Saturday morning. He was brought him back to his apartment later in the evening and when the authorities seized computers and documents.
David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, demanded the release of all employees. “The idea that the British Embassy is somehow behind the demonstrations and protests that have been taking place in Tehran in recent weeks is wholly without foundation,” he said at an EU conference in Corfu. The BBC said EU ministers at the meeting today had warned that “harassment or intimidation” of embassy staff would be met with a “strong and collective” response. The LAT report said the Iranians had also targeted local staffers of the United Nations. “At least one was arrested after she was photographed flashing a supportive ‘V’ signal with her fingers during a rally in support of Ahmadinejad’s challenger, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, in front of the UN’s Tehran offices.”
Ayatollah Khamenei used the row to reinforce his demand for national unity. “If the nation and political elite are united in heart and mind, the incitement of international traitors and oppressive politicians will be ineffective.” He said the foreign interference “will only have a negative effect as the Iranian nation knows during the eight-year sacred defense [the Iraq-Iran war] when their homes were bombarded and destroyed by missiles and chemical weapons were used against them, these governments showed no concern and [instead] aided the enemy of the Iranian nation.”
Although this argument with the west is a handy weapon in the regime’s efforts to silence the oppposition, some Iranian observers say there is more than that to Khamenei’s belief that Britain is Iran’s most treacherous enemy, stated just over a week ago in his Friday prayers address. Could his vehement hatred be related to the announcement that revelation thatBritain has frozen almost £1 billion of Iranian assets under international sanctions imposed over Tehran’s nuclear program. “The total assets frozen in the UK under the EU (European Union) and UN sanctions against Iran are approximately £976,110,000,” Ian Pearson, economic secretary to the Treasury, said in a written statement to parliament. A lot of (as far as I can find out totally unsubstantiated) chatter in Iranian circles, like this, is that at least some of this money “belongs” to Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.
Rafsanjani message — Ayatollah Rafsanjani has c alled for a fair and thorough examination of election complaints. In a somewhat enigmatic statement, quoted by Reuters, he described recent developments as a conspiracy by suspicious elements aimed at dividing people and the Islamic system and also targeting people’s trust in it. “Wherever the people entered the scene with full alertness such plots were foiled,” he added. He praised Khamenei’s decision to extend the dealine for the Guardian Council to report on the elkection by five days . “This valuable move by the Supreme Leader in order to attract the people’s trust towards the election process was very effective. I hope those who are involved in this issue thoroughly and fairly review and study the legal complaints.”
Meanwhile PressTV quoted seniorMP Ismail Kowsari as suggesting an independent “and expanded” committee was more likely to resolve the election dispute than the Guardian Council. Kowsari, Vice-Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said the special commisssion set up by the council was not an “arbitration committee” as some have suggested. “It is a supervisory commission composed of those trusted by both sides only to supervise the recounting of the ballots.”
Extra votes were printed — Kamran Daneshjou, the head of Iran’s electoral office, has acknowledged that 2 million ballots were printed on the day of the election because of shortages at some polling stations. This was in addition to the 60,875,000 that had already been printed, according to PressTV. But he rejected objections to the election and addressed some specific complaints, particularly that ballot boxes had been stuffed with votes before the start. Daneshjou said 14 individuals had signed off each ballot box, each with a different tendency, and they testified to the boxes being empty. He also said candidates’ representatives arrived too late at many polling stations. Daneshjou said the real gripe of some opposition candidates was that the Guardian Council had not already disqualified Ahmadinejad from running for a second term. “They do not have the audacity to say this openly, and instead begin to find excuses to nitpick against the execution of the election.”
Hundreds missing — More than 2,000 people are still in detention and hundreds more are missing in Iran since the crackdown, according to the International Federation for Human Rights. “According to the latest information we have, more than 2,000 people been arrested and are currently in detention,” AFP quoted Karim Lahidji, vice-president of the Paris-based organisation, as saying. “Hundreds of people are missing, according to independent information that has came to us from Tehran since yesterday.”
Bon Jovi’s message — Jon Bon Jovi joined Iranian singer Andy Madadian in an Los Angeles recording studio last week to record a “musical message of worldwide solidarity with the people of Iran”. Joining them were Richie Sambora and American record producers Don Was and John Shanks. The song they sing, partly in Persian, is Stand By Me. In a message that precedes the video of the recording, Was says it is available to be freely “downloaded and shared by the Iranian people … to give voice to the sentiment that all people of the world stand together … the handwritten Farsi sign in the video translates to ‘we are one’.”
Joan Baez has done done a similar turn, reworking We Shall Overcome to include some Persian lyrics and dedicating it to the people of Iran. You can catch that video here.
Give a little bandwidth — In an other sign of international solidarity the website iranian.com reports that Volksrant, one of Holland’s top papers, today published an appeal to all universities, companies and organizations to provide their proxy servers to the people of Iran so that they can communicate freely. “Many computers in the Netherlands only use a fraction of their internet bandwidth. This excess bandwidth can be rerouted to Iranian protesters in order to enable the free and anonymous flow of information.” The appeal has been signed and supported by a large number of Dutch politicians, academics and intellectuals.
CIA misread? –A report in Newsweek suggests Obama’s initially cautious response to the Iranian election was down to the fact that the CIA and other intelligence services largely believed Ahmadinejad won solidly “and that if there was fraud, it was at the margins”. The agencies were then caught off guard by the authorities’ “maladroit handling” of the results and aftermath. “Even after the street erupted, some US experts still maintained that Ahmadinejad won big and that the protests would run their course more quickly than they did,” the report said. And Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, said: “I think we’re still behind the curve.” The report prompted this wry comment from blogger Iowkell on the Daily Koss site: “So, let’s see, the same CIA which said the Soviet Union would last forever, which completely missed the Iranian Revolution back in 1978, which told George W Bush that the existence of WMD in Iraq was a “slam dunk case”, and which almost totally screwed up prior to 9/11 (“failures to implement and manage important processes, to follow through with operations, and to properly share and analyze critical data”), was “off the mark” once again? I’m shocked, SHOCKED I tell you!”
Petrol subsidy scrapped — If President Ahmadinejad is at all worried about his popularity he shows no sign of it, deciding to risk a widespread outrcry by ending all subsidies on petrol for private vehicles. PressTV, quoting Tabnak, said the decision had been passed to “the relevant organs”. The report notes that petrol has been highly subsisidised for some time: 80 litres can be bought each month for 1,000 rials per litre (about 10 cents) , a quarter of the market rate. “This has been a huge burden on the public funds, especially because Iran does not have sufficient capacity to refine all the gasoline that it consumes, forcing the government to spend billions of dollars each year on imported gasoline,” the report said.
This report would appear to lend credence to claims that the regime is becoming exceedingly strapped for cash, in part because of all the turmoil. Another straw in the wind comes from this file two days ago by Steve Schippert at ThreatWatch suggesting that Tehran has missed its regularly scheduled subsistance payment to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group. Quoiting Aaron Klein, “who has perhaps the deepest contacts within Palestinian terrorist organisations of any journalist in the world”, Schippert suggests to the only money pouring out of Iran right now is “transfers by businesses rushing to deposit their millions out of Iranian banks and into more stable environments abroad.”