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Iran Report: October 23, 2006


October 23, 2006, Volume 9, Number 39

EXECUTIVE BRANCH SEEKS TO EXTEND CONTROL AS LOCAL ELECTIONS NEAR. Iranian voters were enthusiastic about the country's first local-council elections almost eight years ago, but lower voter turnout in 2003 suggested waning interest. Disappointment arguably has stemmed from unmet expectations as limited powers and access to resources hampered the councils' work.

Recent steps by Iran's executive branch to control who runs for the councils -- combined with previous efforts to further curb their powers -- suggest that voter participation might continue to fall despite their political significance.

Registration for prospective candidates for December's third round of council elections began on October 16 and will continue until October 22.

The races are not expected to attract the prominent names associated with national races -- such as the legislature or the Assembly of Experts. Nevertheless, some of those who have registered have achieved a modicum of recognition, including Mujtaba Alai, deputy head of the presidential protocol office, and Tehran police chief Morteza Talai, reported by Baztab on October 17 and the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on October 9.

The Interior Ministry conducts all the country's elections and, in most cases, it is the 12-member Guardians Council that vets prospective candidates and has supervisory powers. But it is the legislature that has supervisory and vetting powers in the municipal-council elections. This has previously given candidates who might be rejected on factional grounds a much better chance of qualifying.

It became increasingly clear by late September, when the Central Committee for Monitoring Council Elections began its activities, that this firewall was crumbling. The central committee comprised five fundamentalist legislators: Tehran's Hussein Fadai, Islamabad-i Gharb's Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh, Malekan's Salman Khodadadi, Karaj's Rashid Jalali-Jafari, and Kerman's Mohammad Ali Movahedi. It selected 90 people from 27 provinces to monitor the elections, and nearly all of them were fundamentalists.

The committee claimed that it consulted with parliamentarians about their constituencies. But reformists said the choices were made when the legislature was in recess, and they were ignored. One lawmaker, Mohammad Reza Tabesh of Yazd Province, said he is the only legislator from his province who is not on the provincial monitoring committee, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on September 24.

Only three of the 90 were from the pro-reform faction. They withdrew from the provincial monitoring committee a few days later, objecting to what they feared would be a biased screening of prospective candidates, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on September 26.

Limiting Local Autonomy

The municipal councils already have limited powers and responsibilities. They deal with issues like construction permits, garbage collection, and roadwork. The central government is responsible for everything else -- such as education, electricity, and the provision of water.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's administration tried to reduce the powers even more through a new law on city and village councils. Under the amended law, the councils would be subordinate to the Interior Ministry and would require its approval before performing many of their functions.

Councils also currently select mayors. But under the proposed law, the Interior Ministry would essentially perform that function.

A member of the Tehran council, Hassan Bayadi, warned that the objective of the new law is to eliminate the councils completely, "Etemad" reported on May 23. Another legislator, Kazem Jalali, said the provisions of the law would run counter to the constitution, "Hambastegi" reported on June 1.

With roughly two months to go before the elections, it appears that the law has been allowed to fade into the background.

Co-opting Provincial Institutions

President Ahmadinejad is doing other things that could weaken existing provincial government institutions and create new ones that are more closely connected to the executive branch. It is the presidential administration -- through the Interior Ministry -- that appoints provincial governors-general. On October 17, Ahmadinejad issued a directive that linked every provincial office of the Management and Planning Organization with the provincial governor-general. The head of the Management and Planning Organization, Farhad Rahbar, has objected to this development, and the legislature declared its intention to review the plan for any illegalities. If this measure is implemented, it will strengthen the Interior Ministry's hold over provincial affairs.

Ahmadinejad's frequent trips to the provinces also serve to undermine municipal councils and other local institutions. As his staff collects citizens' written complaints and he deals with their problems on a case-by-case basis, the president shows that he can provide immediate relief and is a man of action. Already weakened through legislation and without the financial resources of the executive branch, the councils are stuck with the difficult task of developing macro-policies that help entire communities, not just one citizen.

A spokesman for the Executives of Construction Party, Hussein Marashi, asked whether "the problems of our country [will] be solved by turning the national government into a mobile provincial planning council." He called that the administration's biggest achievement. But Marashi added that Iran must be the only place in the world where the central government takes on responsibilities that normally fall under the purview of the provinces, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on September 16.

Whence And Whither?

The concept of councils at the local level was enshrined in the Iranian Constitution of 1979. But the first council elections did not take place until 20 years later. Then-President Mohammad Khatami's administration sought to decentralize the state apparatus and increase public participation in political affairs and, in general, it emphasized the significance of the councils.

Scholar Kian Tajbakhsh asserted at the August 2006 Conference on Iranian Studies in London that the reformists viewed the councils as civil-society organizations. But he noted that reformists did not clarify their agenda, address legal ambiguities, distinguish councils' responsibilities, or even place local institutions in the broader context of an authoritarian state. Tajbakhsh said "energy" for the local councils was closely connected with the wider, national reform movement. When that movement faded, he argued, so did local councils' momentum.

Public disillusionment with the councils appears to have led to a sharp fall in voter turnout in 2003. The decline was most acute in major cities like Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, and Tehran -- where turnout was between 12 percent and 20 percent. At the same time, reformists fared poorly in the big cities, although turnout in other parts of the country was around 50 percent.

It would be reasonable to expect a continuing decline in official turnout figures if people reacted unfavorably to government-imposed restrictions. But three factors suggest it is too early to make such a prediction. First, the government controls the election process entirely, so outside observers will find it difficult to detect fraud. Indeed, a number of prominent Iranians remarked on the prevalence of fraud in the 2005 presidential election.

Second, the holding of simultaneous elections -- for the councils, the Assembly of Experts, and four parliamentary seats -- is likely to increase overall turnout.

Finally, the government is basing its population estimates on a 1996 census. The general manager of the Interior Ministry's elections office, Ali Asqar Karandish, said that population changes in big cities are far from clear, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on September 21.

Regardless of the final outcome, the Ahmadinejad administration is likely to continue its effort to extend and strengthen its control throughout the country. It has met some resistance from the legislature -- even from conservative parliamentarians -- but it has up to seven more years to keep trying. (Bill Samii)

EARLY DISQUALIFICATIONS FROM ASSEMBLY OF EXPERTS RACE. Guardians Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai announced on October 14 that three people signed up twice as candidates for the Assembly of Experts elections in mid-December, so the actual number of prospective candidates is 492, state television reported. An initial examination of credentials suggests that 60 people are in no way educationally or professionally qualified to be candidates, Kadkhodai added.

Individuals whose religious learning is questioned will have the opportunity to take a written exam on October 27, and those who pass the test will be invited for interviews, he said. Kadkhodai explained that one need not be a cleric to stand in the election, as long as the candidate attains the desired level of ijtihad (the ability to interpret Islamic law).

Turning to the race itself, Kadkhodai said that campaigning can begin once the names of candidates are published, and candidates who are Friday prayer leaders cannot lead official congregations in the two weeks immediately prior to the election date of December 15. (Bill Samii)

CANDIDATES REGISTER FOR PARLIAMENTARY BY-ELECTIONS. When registration closed on October 13, 246 people had signed up as candidates in four parliamentary by-elections in Iran slated for December 15, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on October 15. The by-elections will be held for two seats in Tehran, one in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, and one in the southeastern city of Bam. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN GETS NEW POLICE CHIEF. Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan has been selected as the new police chief in Tehran, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on October 19, citing the daily "Seda-yi Edalat." Radan served previously as a police chief in Khorasan Razavi Province.

Radan succeeds Morteza Talai, who resigned recently. There are conflicting reports about the resignation -- either he did so to run as a candidate for upcoming local council elections or to protest the violent arrest of a Tehran cleric and his supporters, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on October 16 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," October 16, 2006).

Fars news agency reported on October 9 that Talai resigned, as required by the law, to become a candidate for municipal elections in December. However, a letter cited by Radio Farda from a deputy head of the Intelligence Ministry to the head of clerical affairs at the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that was reportedly published on October 15, states that Talai had threatened to resign if the state acted against Ayatollah Hussein Kazemeyni-Borujerdi, who differs with the regime over religious affairs.

Separately, one of Kazemeyni-Borujerdi's followers, who was arrested and then released on October 10, told Radio Farda on October 16 that "we have no accurate reports of Mr. Borujerdi's situation," though authorities have interrogated his supporters and told them to shun the cleric. Muhaddaseh Saberi told Radio Farda that "in the interrogations they presented Mr. Borujerdi as a corrupt individual." (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

LEGISLATURE CONSIDERS CLOTHING. The Iranian legislature has begun serious debate over a number of issues related to clothing, "Etemad" reported on October 12. The topics range from a national dress code to mandatory uniforms in the workplace to the protection of the domestic clothing industry. "The parliament's view is that fashion and clothing graduates and manufacturers and the private sector should embark on the design and production of varied clothes themselves with support from the government in the form of subsidies," legislator Fatemeh Alia told "Etemad. This should be based on the country's Islamic and ethnic identity, she added. Alia said the presence of ethnic groups will contribute to diversity and people can choose for themselves. Laleh Eftekhari, a representative from Tehran, also stressed that homogeneity is not being considered.

The legislature passed two articles of a bill relating to fashion and clothing on October 10, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported the next day. One article is aimed at discouraging people from adopting foreign fashions that are incompatible with Iran's national and Islamic culture and encouraging them to buy locally produced clothes that are based on domestic patterns. Various ministries, state radio and television, and designers and manufacturers' guilds will form a committee to consider ways to accomplish that task. (Bill Samii)

HEALTH MINISTER SAYS TENS OF THOUSANDS MIGHT BE HIV-INFECTED. Kamran Baqeri-Lankarani said in Tehran on October 15 that his ministry has identified more than 13,000 Iranians as infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but that the real figure for infections is likely between 60,000-70,000 "in the worst-case scenario," IRNA reported. He said AIDS is still a disease restricted to specific groups in the country, but "if we do not act against it with care, it could become a generalized disease." He said that even the highest estimate for infections "is not so [high] compared to many neighboring countries." He added that more state money is needed for HIV and flu-related treatments in the country, amid the rising price of some pharmaceutical products. (Vahid Sepehri)

NEW REFORMIST DAILY PUBLISHED... A new daily, "Ruzegar" (Times), was published on October 16 and is seen as an unofficial successor to the banned reformist daily "Sharq," which was closed on September 11, Reuters and AFP reported. The daily's managing editor is Farzaneh Kharqani, and members of the former "Sharq" staff are working on the new daily, although they are "none of the well-known faces," Reuters reported, citing Mohammad Atrianfar, a former member of the "Sharq" policymaking board.

Separately, ILNA reported on October 16 that three journalists were arrested "last week" at the offices of their Kurdish-language weekly, "Rujheh Halat." It reported that agents with a court order arrested Farhad Aminpur, Reza Alipur, and Saman Suleimani, without specifying why they were arrested or where the publication is based.

On October 17, Justice Minister Jamal Karimi-Rad assured ISNA that the government is not trying to curb "critical" media but wants them to observe the government's "conduct" and "generosity" and "return to their true position and mission." He said unnamed domestic media have been "unkind" to the Ahmadinejad government, and "some of the opinions of government critics are baseless." (Vahid Sepehri)

...AND SUSPENDED AFTER GOVERNMENT WARNING. A new daily newspaper in Iran has suspended its publication just three days into its print run after the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry told it that it could not cover political news. Many of the "Ruzgar" (Times) employees were former contributors to a leading reformist daily, "Sharq," that authorities shut down in September.

Officials' quick intervention has fueled suspicion that they simply won't tolerate a moderate voice on Iranian newsstands.

The ministry's warning came in a letter that said the "Ruzgar" license does not include political coverage and thus prohibits it from publishing political news.

In the face of that threat, its managers decided to suspend publication after just three issues.

Iran's ILNA news agency excerpted the ministry's letter on October 18 and reported that "Ruzgar" would begin appearing without political coverage. But ILNA soon removed the story from its website and said it should not be used.

A "Ruzgar" editor, Abdolreza Tajik, told AFP that the decision to suspend publication was made after warnings to avoid politics and to change the newspaper's format.

"Ruzgar" politics staffer Mohammad Atrianfar accused the Culture Ministry of "tightening the noose [on] reformists." He said that at least two other conservative papers with similar licenses, "Hamshahri" and "Jam-i Jam," cover political events. Atrianfar headed the policymaking committee of the now-defunct reformist daily "Sharq," and he noted that authorities still have not announced legal reasons for that newspaper's closure.

Beleaguered Existence

The "Ruzgar" launch had been characterized as the entry of a moderate daily to a market that has witnessed many closures. More than 100 reformist and moderate publications have been shut down by Iranian authorities in recent years.

Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent journalist and former editor of four banned dailies, is also a spokesman for the Society to Defend Press Freedom. He tells RFE/RL that the targeting of "Ruzgar" demonstrates that powerful conservatives will not tolerate criticism or dissent.

"Our friends should have come to the conclusion by now that [conservatives] are opposed to the intellectual current of 'Sharq' and 'Ruzgar' and not to their mastheads. Conservatives are only satisfied with a single-voice media that is led by the establishment, so they will fight any effort to bring different voices to the media. One example is the fact that they couldn't even tolerate the very moderate publications 'Sharq' and 'Ruzgar.'"

"Ruzgar" was launched as a 24-page color daily. Representatives had insisted it was not meant to be a substitute for "Sharq." But just weeks before its launch, a conservative daily reported that "Sharq" was returning to publication under the new title "Ruzgar."

Selective Enforcement

A moderate news website, roozna.ir, has cast doubt on the ministry's claim, saying Iran's press law allows newspapers with cultural and social content to publish two pages of political news. Roozna.ir adds that "Ruzgar" appears to have been deprived of that right.

Reza Moini is an Iran specialist with French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF). He describes the Culture Ministry's order against "Ruzgar" as an excuse to prevent journalists from doing their work, and says it comes amid increasing pressure on reporters.

"[On October 18] we said in a statement about three other publications whose journalists have been harassed that the Islamic republic uses all the possibilities and tools at its disposal to prevent publications and journalists from expressing themselves freely," Moini says. "[The "Ruzgar"] case is the same. The excuse that the publication should not have political pages is really laughable."

RSF notes that six journalists have been arrested in Iran in recent weeks. It accuses Iranian authorities of shutting down media that "do not defend the government's vision of the Islamic revolution" and arresting journalists "without warrants and without reason."

Chilling Stories

Moini tells RFE/RL that state pressure on journalists is resulting in harassment and self-censorship.

"When they arrest a journalist and then put him under interrogation and then free him on a heavy bail -- but he can be sent back to prison at any time -- how can he work?" Moini asks. "There isn't only self-censorship -- this is imposed censorship."

Iran's government denies that it censors the media and says it welcomes criticism.

Officials have not yet reacted to the suspension of the "Ruzgar" print run, and the daily's managers have not said whether it will return.

The European Union roundly criticized Tehran as recently as October 5 for closing newspapers and harassing journalists. (Golnaz Esfandiari)

STUDENTS PROTEST RESTRICTIONS. Students from Tehran's Amir Kabir University, formerly known as the Polytechnic, protested perceived pressure on students and dissidents in Iran and the three-week detention of Kayvan Ansari, a former member of the university's Islamic Students Association, RFE/RL's Radio Farda and ISNA reported on October 16 and 17. Protesters called for the release of political and student prisoners, and the suspension of the Basij association in the university, Radio Farda reported. Basijis are members of a militia affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps.

A student identified only as Qaragozlu told ISNA on October 16 that "they may have damaged the buildings of the Islamic association" of students, referring to unspecified agents, "and as they say the...association has no headquarters; but if they want to continue like this, we shall gather in the university and stop them. This is the Polytechnic, and we will not let them do [whatever] they like."

Former student Ahmad Batebi has returned to prison after a short leave, his father told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on October 17, adding that his son is unwell and "wasting away" in prison. Batebi was jailed for participating in 1999 student demonstrations in Tehran. His father said rights groups have done nothing to win his release, and the judiciary has told the family that Batebi must remain in prison for 15 years. "Our lives have been destroyed and my son is wasting away...we are stuck in a place where nobody...is accountable," he said.

Separately, a court in Zanjan, northwestern Iran, sentenced former student Reza Abbasi to a year's imprisonment for allegedly insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Radio Farda reported on October 17. Activist Abdullah Momeni told the broadcaster that Abbasi has been detained since late June on a temporary arrest warrant for taking part in demonstrations by Iranian Azeri-speakers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," May 29, 2006). A

Tehran court has also fined former Yazd University student Mohammad Reza Rahimi for insulting state officials and ordered that he be given 30 lashes for insulting a Yazd University security guard when he was a student there, ISNA reported on October 17.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on October 19 called on the Iranian government to immediately cease restricting student activists' attendance at universities, hrw.org reported. In a report titled "Denying the Right to Education," HRW noted that the government has barred 12 students, and that another 54 were allowed to resume going to school only after pledging not to engage in political activities. HRW asserted that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security is behind the campaign, and in the last year the judiciary has given more than 20 students prison sentences. Another 32 students have been suspended by their universities, and 10 student associations have been banned or suspended.

As the repression of student activists continues, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with top-grade students in Tehran on October 17. He told them that while restlessness is a part of student life, "politicization" is "not approved" among student formations, ISNA reported. "Politicization and political games are not approved, but an inclination for politics and to win the power of political understanding and analysis is a...necessity among students and universities," he said. He urged student formations "relying on Islam and Islamic teachings" not to "weaken" each other.

Clearly, he said, "the enemy is investing on some student currents, and America and Israel's espionage services are even ready to help student formations affiliated with the masses and left-wing currents, whose presence is now meaningless with the collapse" of communist states. Western enemies, he said, are trying "by all possible means and under various names like royalists and others" to harm "genuine student currents," ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)

RUNAWAY GIRLS A GROWING PROBLEM. Iranian newspapers have carried an increasing number of reports about runaway girls over the last few years, Radio Farda reported on October 19, and female police officers are tasked with dealing with these girls in the environs of the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad. Many of the girls sleep in the open, Radio Farda reported, and some have taken to prostitution. It was reported that some girls as young as 9 years old have been found as runaways. (Bill Samii)

IRAN TOPS AGENDA AT ISRAEL-RUSSIA SUMMIT. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Iran and a variety of issues related to the Middle East on October 18, international media reported. Olmert said that heading the agenda was "everything connected to the Iranian problem, which bothers everyone." He hailed Putin and recalled the promise Putin made last year that Russia's relations in the Middle East will no longer be one-sided. For his part, Putin said the relations between the two countries are based on mutual trust. He added that "in recent years, relations between the Russian Federation and Israel have acquired an entirely new quality.... We have fundamentally changed our attitude to our compatriots -- we think of them as our compatriots -- who moved to Israel for permanent residence from Russia and the former republics of the Soviet Union."

Olmert's hosts also included Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said that Iran poses no immediate threat. Israel is pushing for sanctions against Iran over Tehran's nuclear programs while Russia opposes the move. Olmert argued that "if the leader of such a country as Iran openly states that he wants to destroy our country, we have no choice but to prepare for a response." For his part, Putin said that "the situation requires all parties to show responsibility and restraint. Only a just and comprehensive settlement accepted by all peoples in the region can be reliable and long-lasting."

Foreign Minister Lavrov said in Moscow on October 18 that "it is necessary [for the international community] to act on Iran, but that action should be in direct proportion to what is really happening," RIA Novosti reported. He added that "what is really happening is what the IAEA reports to us. And the IAEA is not reporting to us about the presence there of a threat to peace and security."

Elsewhere, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak told Interfax that Russia's position in the UN Security Council on Iran will not be influenced by the U.S. sanctions against Russia's main arms exporter, Rosoboroneksport, and the aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi. He said that "these are two separate, serious issues. We will tackle them separately." His remarks appeared to contradict somewhat recent statements by Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin linking the two issues. (Patrick Moore)

TEHRAN PREDICTS IMPOSITION OF SANCTIONS. Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai said in Tehran on October 16 that he considers the imposition of "mild" sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program "not unlikely" in the coming weeks, ISNA reported. But he added that China, Russia, and "even Western states" might not enforce them. He said the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany are agreed on "some form of mild sanctions...like those approved for North Korea, which does not include an oil embargo or foreign exchange revenues." Sanctions, he said, would be "symbolic" and aimed at maintaining U.S. prestige, since Iran has effectively pushed the United States to a "dead-end" with its resistance. "I think [sanctions] will not be successful," Rezai said, adding that they would likely last but a few months. "A hesitant resolution will be issued imposing sanctions...on the one hand, and insisting on the continuation of talks on the other," ISNA reported. He said Iran has withstood worse sanctions and would change its trading partners.

Kamal Daneshyar, the head of the parliament's Energy Committee, said in the southwestern Ahvaz on October 16 that "oil sanctions against Iran are like oil sanctions on consumer countries," ISNA reported. Iran would suffer, he admitted, but the sanctioning countries "that are mostly consumer countries" would suffer "10 times as much." He said if Iran's 2.5 million barrels of oil per day are taken out of the global market, "it is true that Iran no longer has oil revenues, but the price of oil will rise to $150 a barrel." Iran, he said, could meet its own needs "through domestic production" and would "guide society toward self-sufficiency."

EU foreign ministers met in Luxembourg on October 17 and were reportedly ready to back the imposition of sanctions, described by news agencies as mild and incremental, on Iran in response to its refusal to end sensitive nuclear-fuel-making activities, Reuters reported. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner was quoted as saying that Iran must see that there is a united international response to its contested program, although a Spanish official said sanctions will be "gradual," as Iran remains an EU oil supplier, Reuters reported.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on October 16 in Washington that the UN Security Council will "begin to work this week on an Iran sanctions resolution," AFP reported. Rice said Iran and North Korea are two countries "that violate their pledges to respect the [Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty."

EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said in Luxembourg before the October 17 meeting that the doors to talks with Iran remain open and there is "always hope" that negotiations might resume, AFP reported.

EU foreign ministers stated in Luxemburg on October 17 that they feel obliged to support incremental UN sanctions on Iran for its refusal to curb its nuclear activities in line with Western demands, agencies reported on October 17 and 18. Iran and the EU have been talking for months as the EU has sought to persuade Iran to abandon nuclear fuel-making activities -- which can also be used to make nuclear bombs -- in return for economic incentives. In rejecting this deal, Iran "leaves us no choice but to take the Security Council route," Reuters quoted French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy as saying. He proposed "gradual, reversible measures proportionate to Iranian actions." EU officials have said they are not ruling out the resumption of talks.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, immediately reacted to the move and said the EU would lose, not Iran. Larijani said in Tehran on October 18 that a UN Security Council resolution against Iran would radicalize the situation and jeopardize Iranian cooperation, Reuters reported. He said the "carrot-and-stick policy is a failed policy." He told Mehr "if they want flexibility, real and effective flexibility will never come out of talks under pressure."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini said in Tehran on October 18 that the EU foreign ministers' statement announcing Europe's decision to back sanctions is unrealistic, and any move to undermine the "effectiveness" of "responsible bodies" like the IAEA would hamper the resolution of the dispute, IRNA reported. He said Iran will defend its rights using "legal and political channels," and has no doubt it is on the "right path" and has an "evident right to utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

Separately, the head of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaedin Borujerdi, told ISNA on October 18 that the EU statement and Iran's comparison with "other countries" is "unacceptable and unjust," and shows Europe is "submitting" to "political pressure" by the United States. He said Iran is presently ready for more talks on its dossier, but if this is "taken toward sanctions," inspections of Iranian installations by IAEA inspectors "will no longer be a possibility," ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

'JERUSALEM DAY' COMMEMORATED IN IRAN. People across Iran participated in Qods (Jerusalem) Day rallies on October 20, news agencies reported. The previous day, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in the Tehran Province town of Islamshahr that "the existence of the Quds-occupying regime" is the biggest problem facing mankind, state television reported. "It is a bogus regime.... It is the root of discrimination, oppression, and bullying in the world." He added "We have said repeatedly and our nation has said repeatedly that this regime is illegitimate in its very foundation; it is forged, it has been imposed on nations of the region and it cannot survive." After ranting in this vein and then flinging accusations at the United States for its support of Israel, Ahmadinejad turned to the nuclear issue and said Iran will not forsake its perceived rights. (Bill Samii)

IRAN INVESTS HEAVILY IN LEBANESE RECONSTRUCTION. Hesam Khoshnevis, who heads an Iranian delegation to Lebanon, announced in Beirut on October 13 that Iran will build 60 schools in the southern suburbs of Beirut and another 40 in the Bekaa Valley, IRNA reported. Those are two areas predominantly inhabited by Shi'ite Muslims and controlled by Hizballah. Khoshnevis added that Iran will equip the schools. Khoshnevis went on to say that five hospitals in southern Beirut, four in the Bekaa, and 10 more in the south are being built by Iran. Iran is rebuilding mosques, Husseiniehs (Shi'ite religious centers), and other religious structures in Beirut, the Bekaa, and the south, as well as roads and bridges. The total cost, Khoshnevis said, will be $35 million-$50 million.

In Tehran on October 13, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei discussed Lebanese affairs in his Friday Prayers sermon, state radio reported. He said the United States suffered a defeat in the July-August conflict between Israel and Hizballah. Khamenei said the conflict teaches a lesson: "Nations have once again seen and experienced that the path of victory and liberation is only in resistance against the bullies, the aggressors and the despots." Retaliation for the alleged defeat in this conflict will include the creation of ethnic strife, Khamenei warned. (Bill Samii)

BAKU POLICE DISPERSE ANTI-IRANIAN DEMONSTRATION. Azerbaijani police forcibly dispersed on October 13 some 30 demonstrators near the Iranian Embassy in Baku, Turan reported. The demonstration was organized to protest Iran's "suppression of the cultural and national rights" of ethnic Azeris and to campaign for Azeri-language education for the Azeri minority in Iran. Police detained around 10 participants in the protest. Baku police broke up a similar demonstration late last month in front of the Iranian embassy. (Richard Giragosian)

NORWEGIAN COMPANY AGREES TO PAY FINE FOR BRIBING IRANIAN. The Norwegian oil company Statoil announced on October 13 that it will pay a $21 million fine for violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act after it bribed an Iranian official and failed to properly account for the payment in its bookkeeping, Radio Farda reported. The statement acknowledged payment of bribes to an Iranian official in 2002 and 2003 so he would help the company win contracts for the development of three phases of the South Pars gas field. Statoil will pay fines of $10.5 million to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and $10.5 million to the U.S. Justice Department, but $3 million in fines paid to the Norwegian government will be subtracted from the total.

The case relates to Statoil's $15.2 million deal with Horton Investments, a London-based consulting company associated with Mehdi Hashemi, the managing director of the Organization for Optimization of Energy Consumption, which is a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company. Hashemi is the son of former Iranian President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," September 22 and 29, October 6, 13, and 27, and November 10, 2003, and 5 July 2004). (Bill Samii)

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