Monday August 3 – the daily story

Khamenei attacks Rafsanjani at presidential ceremony — Ayatollah Khamenei  today hit back at his political rival Ayatollah Rafsanjani, suggesting he was acting out of spite in opposing the outcome of the last election,   as he formally approved the second presidential  term  of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But he also warned the president that he faced the prospect of possibly four years of confrontation by an “angry, wounded opposition”, and that he should listen to genuine criticism from within the regime’s own ranks.

In a clear response to Rafsanjani’s Friday prayers speech two weeks ago, Khamenei  said  most people had acted responsibly during and after the election, but “some elites” had not behaved in accordance with their responsibilities.  “Those who talk of the nation’s distrust do so either out of spite or out of negligence,” he said at the official endorsement ceremony in Tehran, drawing directly on statements made by Rafsanjani in his speech.

Not surprisingly, Rafsanjani and the reformist leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami  did not attend the ceremony.  This meant, according to PressTV, that the tradition of the previous president reading out the endorsement decree had to be abandoned. The state broadcaster’s English-language website also pointedly noted that no representatives of the family of the late Ayatollah Khomeini were present.

But Mohsen Rezai, one of the defeated candidates in the election  who has previously questioned the results, was present, apparently in his capacity as secretary of the Expediency Council, which is headed by Rafsanjani. Also present according to official news agency reports were Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, Secretary of the Guardian Council,  Ali Larijani, the Majlis Speaker, and Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, the Head of the Judiciary. The ceremony was also attended by unspecified members of the Experts Assembly, MPs, military officials and foreign ambassadors, although again exactly which countries attended was not made clear. In the rather chaotic way the regime reports its events, it appeared the official Al-Alam  Arabic broadcasting service was the only one allowed to cover the ceremony.

In his speech the Supreme Leader praised Ahmadinejad as “courageous, astute and hard-working”.   “The Iranian people have voted in favour of the fight against arrogance, confronting  destitution and spreading  justice.  The unprecedented and decisive vote of the people for the elected and respected president is an endorsement of the ninth government’s four-year record.”

Speaking of the unrest that followed the election, Khamenei again insisted that those guilty of offences should be “called to account”, and added that, while some young people joined the protests out of honest concern,   “in some cases they made mistakes”.  He said the nation could now be split into three groups: the large number that support the president, “the angry, wounded opposition”,  and “critics who have no enmity with the establishment and the president”.  In his assessment the angry crowd would  continue to challenge the government over the next four years. But he told Ahmadinejad it was important  to give the views of the third group “much reflection”.  This was a clear reference to the recent row over his initial choice for First Vice President, which came to a head when Khamenei  had to insist in a letter that the President change his mind. Today Khamenei  gave Ahmadinejad what appeared to be another veiled  warning in his speech  that his endorsement as President would only continue as long as he stayed “on the right path”.

In his response, Ahmadinejad  came out aggressively against the “selfish … bullying powers” for meddling in the affairs of other nations and “dictating their will”. He promised to establish a stronger international presence, which  he said was vital if Iran’s voice was to be heard in the world. He said: “Gone is the era of bullying;  you can no longer impose your will on the world nations. I advise you to turn back to the path of justice and refrain from meddling in others’ affairs.” Referring specifically to the election and its aftermath, Ahmadinejad said:  “You did wrong to our nation both during and after the election and exploited your political and financial potential in favour of your own interests. The noble Iranian nation will not brook such insincerity and selfishness.” The President said the “progressive Iranian nation” now enjoyed a remarkable status in the world. The massive election  turnout had set a new yardstick for the republic and represented a solid endorsement of the “dialogue of revolution”. He pledged a brighter future for Iranians as a result.

Sadeq Mahsouli , the Interior Minister, also addressed the ceremony to attack “Iran’s enemies and arrogant powers”  for trying to derail the election.  “The world arrogance and the enemies of our nation, in an unprecedented attempt, began to hatch plots and sow deep discord … and they used all their political, intelligence, media and financial potential and agents to strike a blow at the tenth presidential election without considering that it is wrong to test what has already been tested ,” he said.

Ahmadinejad will be sworn in as President at the Majlis on Wednesday and then have two weeks to introduce his cabinet for parliament’s approval. INLA,  INLA, PressTV, PressTV, INLA, Fars,   AFP, ISNA – Khamenei speech

What’s in a non-kiss? — — The media were making much hay from the supposedly frostier exchange betweeen Khamenei and Ahmadinejad as the President went to collect his endorsement. Several TV channels contrasted today’s embrace, where after some confusion and an unheard exchange, Ahmadinejad simply gives the Supreme Leader a peck on the shoulder, with the same ceremony four years ago when the two warmly hugged and kissed. This was widely interpreted as a sign of Khamenei distancing himself from the President. However, it is just as possible to construct the alternative suggestion that Ahmadinejad was  the one doing the snubbing. In the exchange Khamenei  clearly seems prepared for some embrace, but it is the President who pulls away, mouthing some form of explanation. On Twitter later it was suggested by one poster that Ahmadinejad had flu , which would seem a plausible explanation for not wanting too close contact. Judge for yourself

Protesters hit the streets — Renewed protests reportedly took place  in Tehran today after the ceremony to endorse President Ahmadinejad. Supporters of Mir-Hossein Moussavi, writing on his Facebook site, said  tens of thousands of protestors had taken to the streets. A video on the site showed many of them milling silently around Vanak square as the security forces tried, largely unsuccessfully, to break them up.  A report by the German DPA news agency said Vanak and Vali-Asr squares in the north and centre of the city were the main focus of today’s protests.  Even Fars news agency acknowledged the protests, although it said only 100 took part in the “illegal demonstrations”. The agency said reformist leader Mehdi  Karroubi joined the demonstration, apparently after making a speech. According to the report among the chants of the protesters were slogans in favour of Rafsanjani and Khatami, thanking them for boycotting the endorsement ceremony.

Other reports on Twitter said there was chanting  in the streets, balconies and rooftops of Saadatabad . “Many police. Not too confrontational,” one post said. Fires were reported from the Narmak area.  Sites such as this posted videos showing some of the protests, but it was mostly impossible to tell if they were genuinely from today.

Meanwhile the reformist camp mocked the endorsement ceremony, with Moussavi’s Facebook site noting  those who stayed away and isasuing a warning to all those who did: “The names of all figures attending the inauguration and validation ceremonies of the coup administration will be recorded in the common memory of all free Iranians.”  Facebook,  EarthTimes,

Edited tapes ‘prove confession sham’ — Reformist supporters have poured scorn on attempts by the authorities to deny that the confessions aired at the opening of the trial of 100 detainees on Saturday were extracted under pressure. Iranian television on Sunday broadcast what purported to be a video of an interview with two leading defendants,  Mohammad-Ali Abtahi and Mohammad Atrianfar , in which they dismissed claims that their confessions were made under pressure.

Abtahi, a former vice president, and  Atrianfar, a journalist and senior advisor to Ayatollah Rafsanjani, said in the interviews that allegations that drugs had induced their confessions were ”an insult to the intelligence of Iranians”, according to PressTV.  The two insisted they have been treated humanely in detention. They also repeated their retraction of claims the election was rigged, with Abtahai saying it would have been impossible to steal  11 million votes, and admitted the unrest was aimed at staging a velvet revolution.

But analysis of the video of the two being  interviewed clearly shows crude splicing of what is portrayed as a single interview.  Articles such as a water bottle, cup and a piece of paper appear and disappear as if by magic and move around the table. An unconfirmed (and it has to be said anonymous) entry on the Anonymous Iran website suggests, without offering any sourcing,  that in fact two films were made. The first, it claims, was conducted a short while after the two had been imprisoned. The writer says: “They were treated well and without any torture … At that point Abtahi and Atrianfar had made no statements usable by the regime and, obviously, they confirmed there was no mistreatment in prison. They were also made to believe that they would be freed after [a brief trial]. Once that section of the trial was filmed, the regime put them back in prison and apparently forced them to take psychoactive drugs and took any confessions they desired, and that is when they [made the second film]. “

You can judge for yourself at the Anonymous Iran website. Readers may also like to contrast the picture here of Abtahi at Saturday’s trial with an interview he gave to an American television programme before the troubles erupted.

090803 Abtahi at trial

— The Organisation of Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution, the reformist group that is one of the targets of the trial of 100 detainees,  has issued a statement condemning the “illegal show trial” and said that the outcome will put the country on the verge of “annihilation”.

— Hassan Qashqai , the Foreign Ministry spokesman, today attacked Frank Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s Foreign Minister, over a  statement expressing concern at the trial of 100 detainees and demanding the immediate release of political prisoners in Iran.  Qashqai said the statement, put on the German minister’s website on Sunday, represented “outrageous meddling” in live legal proceedings.  PressTV, PressTV, PressTV

Iran pressed on US captives – Swiss diplomats in Tehran have asked the Iranian authorities for access to the three American “hikers” arrested on Friday after straying across the Iraqi-Kurdish border.  The Swiss embassy has handled American affairs in Iran since Washington and Tehran cut relations after the revolution.

American press reports say the Americans were in a party of four friends hiking through Iraqi Kurdistan region. The three who crossed the unmarked border and were arrested were named as Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal. The fourth hiker, Shon Meckfessel, did not join them for the fateful trip. The grandmother of Meckfessel, a student at the University of Washington, said he had stayed behind because he felt sick.

Iranian press reports from the town of Halabja in north-east Iraq near the Iranian border  quoted Colonel Anwar Haj Omar of the local police force as saying the three were in fact from the CIA.  “These three people were agents working with the CIA and were arrested near the resort town of Ahmed Awaa,” he told Ayandeh news. Other Kurdish officials said the three had been warned against walking in that particular area because of the danger of straying across the border.

Iran has confirmed the arrest of the three, but given no more information on their whereabouts. Alaeddin Borujerdi, head of the Majlis foreign policy committee, said:  “This case is currently on its natural course.” CNN,  PressTV

Haj trips ‘banned’ – The health ministry has announced that the Haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia is to be stopped during the holy month of Ramadan because of rising levels of swine flu. Hassan Emami Razavi, the deputy Health Minister, said that of 105 people so far identified with the virus, two-thirds were returning pilgrims.  Some clerics have already started warning their followers to cancel the Haj this year, especially if they are regarded as being high-risk. The health ministry is working on a system to check returning  pilgrims. PressTV, Fars

In other news

The 10-member parliamentary committee set up to investigate the  post-election detention of protesters is looking into complaints of “harsh interrogation techniques” by former inmates of the Kahrizak prison which was ordered closed by Ayatollah Khamenei. Alaeddin Borujerdi, who heads Iran’s foreign policy committee, said the committee had met 60 Kahrizak inmates transferred to  Evin prison.  He said Kahrizak lacked the necessary standards as a place of confinement and rejected the excuse that inmates had been transferred there because of lack of space elsewhere. “Kahrizak was specially built for thugs and ruffians. It is unacceptable that some of those arrested have been kept in the centre due to lack of detention facilities.”  PressTV

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera alleges that the Caspian Air jet crash near Qazvin two weeks ago,  in which 168 people died, was caused by an  explosion of fuses being  delivered to Hesbollah in Lebanon.  Quoting sources in the Middle East, the paper  claimed the plane was carrying a large number of fuses to Yerevan in Armenia, from where they were to have been taken through Turkey and Syria to Lebanon, a route chosen to avoid undue attention. The report said it was a special operation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,  some of whose members were among the crash victims. Ynet News

Sultan Qaboos of Oman kicks off a three-day state visit to Iran today, his first since the 1979 revolution.  He arrives at Bandar Abbas and will spend some time in Hormozgan province before moving to Tehran Tuesday for talks with Ayatollah Khamenei, President Ahmadinejad and other leaders. Much has been made of the visit by both sides, with Sheikh Yahya al-Oraimi, the Omani ambassador to Tehran, describing it as a huge milestone in expanding political, economic and cultural relations.  There is talk among other things of Iran supplying  gas to Oman, while the Sultan will no doubt also be interested in learning more about the way Iran is beefing up its naval operations at Jask, across the Gulf of Oman. The bulk of the seaways navigable by the big vessels entering and leaving the Gulf are in Omani waters, but Iran clearly wants  to expand its naval influence over the area. Last week the navy inaugurated a new military airfield and a jetty to accommodate speed boats at Jask.  Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayari, the naval  commander, said it was part of a plan to maintain a stronger presence on the high seas “to maintain and boost the country’s might”.  PressTV, Fars,  Fars, Fars pictures

Question: Who said: “Extremism follows totalitarianism and we believe defying this phenomenon requires a regional approach.” Of course, you got it first time. It was Manuchehr Mottaki, Iran’s  Foreign Minister,  talking about the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Iran and the Taleban are not the best of friends, we are led to believe).  He told a meeting of deputy foreign ministers from Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in Tehran: “Over the past few years, Afghanistan has been wounded by extremism and the scope of this evil phenomenon has also spread to Pakistan with the purpose of creating a crisis and jeopardising regional security.”  It was announced today that the meeting had agreed to set up a joint investment fund to raise the level of economic cooperation.  A statement also called for greater cooperation in the fields of electricity, transport, education, healthcare and agriculture, and closer integration of efforts to fight terrorism and drug trafficking.  ISNA, PressTV

A number of tremors have hit Iran, but early on there appears to have been no serious damage or injury. The biggest was a quake measuring 2.3 on the Richter scale in the area of Firuzkooh about 50 miles east  of Tehran, shortly after 1am, with at least 21 aftershocks reported. Some smaller tremors hit the area on Sunday. Further south, an earthquake measuring 2.1 hit the city of Bahabad in Yazd province at 2.13pm. Fars

A Boeing 707 belonging to Saha Air, a small Iranian airline owned by the Air Force, made an emergency landing at Ahvaz airport shortly after taking off from there today after a fault was discovered in  one of its four engines. No one was hurt. PressTV

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