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Spike



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5 May 2012
Iran President Ahmadinejad in parliamentary poll setback

Mr Ahmadinejad's influence has been falling since he tried to challenge Ayatollah Khamenei last year


Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has suffered a fresh setback in run-off parliamentary polls.

Mr Ahmadinejad's supporters won only 13 of the 65 seats up for election in Friday's vote, further reducing his power base in the 290-seat parliament.

Conservative supporters of the Supreme Leader had already won an outright majority in March's first round.

Iran's parliament lacks executive power but plays a part in choosing next year's presidential contenders.

Mr Ahmadinejad's influence has been falling since he fell out of favour with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, last year.

'Take it seriously'
According to final results announced on state TV, Mr Ahmadinejad's main conservative rivals won 41 seats of those contested, while independents won 11.

The president's supporters appeared to have fared best in the capital Tehran, where nine seats were won out of a total of 25.

Iranian media is reporting a high turn-out, which the government describes as a sign of trust in the political system and in Iran's approach to Western pressure over the nuclear issue.

Speaking to reporters after casting his vote on Friday, Ayatollah Khamenei called for a high turnout. Officially, it was 64% in March.

"My advice is that people take the run-off as seriously as the first round," he said. "The higher the number of votes for lawmakers... the better they can work."

The new parliament will begin its sessions in late May.

All of the candidates had to be pre-approved by Iran's Guardian Council, which means the contests are effectively between different conservative factions - supporters of the Supreme Leader and Mr Ahmadinejad.

The leaders of the opposition Green Movement have been under house arrest for more than a year and were barred from taking part in the elections.

Other reformist politicians also asked their supporters to stay at home.

Mr Ahmadinejad is required to step down in August 2013, after two four-year terms in office.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17969170
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14 May 2012

Iran resumes talks with UN nuclear watchdog in Vienna

The IAEA's Herman Nackaerts is keen to gain access to Iran's Parchin military site

Officials from Iran and the United Nations' nuclear agency have begun a new round of talks in Vienna about Tehran's nuclear programme.

The agency, the IAEA, says it wants Iran to address suspicions about some possible military applications.

The agency's chief inspector said it was important that Iran allow the IAEA access to people, documents and sites.

Their last meeting, in February, failed to reach agreement. Iran says its nuclear programme is purely peaceful.

Speaking before Monday's talks the IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts urged Iran to allow his team to visit a suspect military site at Parchin.

Monday's session lasted about five hours, but ended with officials refusing to make any comment about how it had progressed.

It is thought that the talks will continue on Tuesday.

International talks
This meeting comes a week before the next round of talks between six world powers and Iran are scheduled to begin in Baghdad.

The last series of full international talks with Iran broke down in early 2011.

Since then, the IAEA has expressed concern that Iran has failed to co-operate with its inspectors and has carried out activities "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

Israel, which believes a nuclear-capable Iran would be a direct threat to its security, has warned that time is running out to prevent that outcome.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted that Israel is prepared to attack Iran's nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails.

However President Obama has warned against "loose talk of war", while stressing that all options remain open.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18059958
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16 May 2012
Iran hangs 'Israel spy' over nuclear scientist killing

Majid Jamali Fashi delivered a "confession" on Iranian television

A man convicted of killing an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran two years ago has been hanged, Iran's state media report.

Majid Jamali Fashi, 24, was convicted of killing Professor Massoud Ali Mohammadi by detonating a bomb outside his home in January 2010.

Fashi was also accused of being a spy for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and receiving $120,000 (£72,000) for the killing.

Israel denied any role in the killings.

Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying the slayings "are not connected to us in any way."

"Majid Jamali Fashi, the Mossad spy and the person who assassinated Masoud Ali Mohammadi, our nation's nuclear scientist, was hanged on Tuesday morning," Iran's Irna news agency reported.

Professor Massoud Ali Mohammadi was a particle physics professor at Tehran University. He is one of several high-profile nuclear scientists to have been killed in Tehran in recent years.

Iran has repeatedly accused Israel and the US of trying to harm its nuclear programme.

The two countries believe Iran is trying to acquire the technology to build nuclear weapons - something Tehran denies.

The country says it is developing its uranium enrichment program for peaceful purposes.

Fashi, who was tried and convicted in August 2011, appeared on Iranian TV in January confessing to the professor's killing, and giving details of the intelligence gathering operation he said he was involved in.

Opposition sources in Iran have accused the government of killing Professor Mohammadi because he was one of their supporters.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18068820
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15 May 2012

Iran, IAEA 'make progress' at nuclear talks

The IAEA's Herman Nackaerts has been seeking access to Iran's Parchin site

Iran says progress has been made at its latest talks with the UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA.

Iran's top nuclear envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said the two days of discussions had been "fruitful".

An IAEA official said talks would resume on Monday after a "good exchange of views".

The agency wants Iran to address concerns over possible military aspects of its nuclear programme. Iran insists it it is purely peaceful.

"The primary focus of our discussions was how to clarify issues related to the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme," IAEA deputy director-general Herman Nackaerts said after the talks.

"We decided that in order to continue this work towards a conclusion we will have the next round of talks next week," Mr Soltanieh said.

Military site
Before the talks on Monday and Tuesday, Mr Nackaerts urged Iran to allow his team to visit a suspect military site at Parchin.

Neither official commented on whether the issue had been discussed at the talks, according to the Reuters news agency.

This meeting comes a week before the next round of talks between six world powers and Iran are scheduled to begin in Baghdad.

The last series of full international talks with Iran broke down in early 2011.

Since then the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has expressed concern that Iran has failed to co-operate with its inspectors and has carried out activities "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

Israel believes a nuclear-capable Iran would be a direct threat to its security, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted that Israel may attack Iran's nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails.

But US President Barack Obama has warned against "loose talk of war", while stressing that all options remain open.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18078957
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15 May 2012
Iranian rapper faces death threats for 'insulting' song
By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
BBC Persian

A religious site, Shia Online, has offered $100,000 reward for anyone who kills Shahin Najafi
The Iranian rapper, Shahin Najafi, is in fear for his life following the release of a song called, Naqi.

The song title refers to the 10th Shia Imam, Ali Ibn Muhammad, also known as al-Naqi.

According to Shia tradition the Imam is the infallible spiritual leader of the Muslim community, directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and son-in-law Ali.

Most Shia believe that since the 10th Century the Imam has not been physically present on earth, and that the return of the 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, will herald the final days of mankind.

Najafi's reference to 10th Imam in a satirical song has sparked an outcry among religious conservatives in Iran, a predominantly Shia state.

Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem-Shirazi, a "sources of emulation" for many Shia Muslims, even issued a fatwa on Sunday declaring the singer an apostate.

This came after another Grand Ayatollah, Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, issued a written statement in response to a question about the song, in which he wrote: "If they have insulted the imam, they are apostates."

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

The ayatollah's decree does not refer to me because the song and lyrics bear no insult to Shia Imams”

Shahin Najafi
More than 800 people in Iran have joined a Facebook campaign calling for Najafi to be executed, saying they are ready to assassinate him if necessary. Another religious site, Shia Online, has offered $100,000 reward for anyone who kills the rapper.

Religion and sex
In an interview with BBC Persian, Najafi accused the people leading the campaign against him of "using religion to serve their own interests".

He lives in Germany but for security reasons he did not say from which city he was speaking.

The song, which was published on YouTube a week ago, has been considered by some as blasphemous because of its satirical tone. Some have criticised it for associating Shia culture with sexuality.

The album's cover depicts the dome of the 8th Shia Imam, Reza, as a female breast, with a rainbow flag flying on it.

But Mr Najafi told BBC: "Islam is the most transparent religion when it comes to sexuality and it has always been open to such concepts."

Najafi is famous for the satirical style of his songs. They often tackle social and political issues in Iran.

Continue reading the main story
Naqi lyrics

Naqi, I swear on your sense of humour

On this exile that is far from [you]

On the great organ of life

That sits behind us in a threatening mode

Naqi, I invoke you on the length and width of sanctions

On the rising value of the dollar and the feeling of humiliation

Naqi, I swear on the cardboard Imam

On the baby who was saying "Ali!" while stuck in his mother's womb

Translation: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

In one of his hit songs called Mahdi, he says the last Imam will reappear to help the poor workers and hungry of Iran against their privileged, clerical rulers.

In his new song Najafi jokes that the Mahdi is in a deep sleep and other Imams should come and save the world.

Breaking taboos
The rapper admits that he sometimes crosses "red lines", but says he does so intentionally.

But he told the BBC: "Ayatollah [Safi Golpaygani's] decree does not refer to me because the song and lyrics bear no insult to Shia Imams."

Breaking religious taboos in Iran has been on rise in recent years and many people have created websites making jokes about Islamic values.

The most famous one is the Facebook campaign called "Reviving Imam Naqi".

It aims to "fight against superstition with satire", makes fun of traditions told about the Imam, and publishes stories about strange miracles attributed to him.

Some see Najafi's controversial song as part of the same campaign.


The late Grand Ayatollah Khomeini said Salman Rushdie's book was "blasphemous against Islam"
On the other hand, the Iranian government is trying hard to put an end to this trend.

A "cyber army" was even set up by the Revolutionary Guards in 2010 to combat "destructive" networks. It has since arrested dozens of bloggers and web designers. Some of them have been sentenced to death for creating anti-Islamic blogs.

Two years ago Mohsen Namjoo, the Iranian singer known as "Iran's Bob Dylan", was tried in absentia and found guilty for singing Quranic verses in an unorthodox manner.

'Death-by-decree'
Twenty-three years after Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's late Supreme Leader, issued a fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie to be killed for writing The Satanic Verses, some Iranians continue to do the same.

In 2006, the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Fazel Lankarani declared Rafiq Tagi, a journalist from Azerbaijan, an apostate for writing an article "against Islam". The marja al-taqlid urged "anyone with access to Tagi to kill him".

Six years later, Mr Tagi was stabbed seven times by unknown assailants. Before he succumbed to his wounds, he gave an interview accusing the Iranian authorities of the attack.

Human right activists have repeatedly called on Iran to respect freedom of speech and to put an end to threats of "death-by-decree".

The Iranian government says it is the victim of an anti-Islamic campaign directed from a "soft-war centre" in the United States, with the aim of attacking Iran's Islamic values and hence, its theocracy.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18057402
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16 May
Bahrain and Iran in diplomatic row over union proposal

Saudi Arabia warned Iran not to interfere if an agreement on a union was reached

Bahrain's foreign ministry has summoned Iran's charge d'affaires in Manama to protest at what it described a "gross violation of its sovereignty".

It follows official Iranian calls for demonstrations against a proposed union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

A summit of the Gulf states discussed the proposal on Monday but did not reach any decision on the matter.

Bahrain's Sunni royal family has accused Iran of supporting mass protests by the nation's Shia majority.

The proposed union was presented as a first step in a larger integration between all six Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) members.

It calls for economic, political and military co-ordination and a new decision-making body based in Riyadh, replacing the current GCC Secretariat.

After no agreement was reached, the Saudi foreign minister said the discussions were being postponed.

But the mere suggestion of the union sparked strong criticism from the opposition in Bahrain.

The tiny Gulf island has seen intermittent protests for more than a year demanding political reforms.

The conflict reached a turning point when Saudi Arabia led a military force into Bahrain as part of what was known the "Peninsula Shield Forces" to support the authorities.

The withdrawal of the troops became a constant demand by the opposition.

Iran tensions

Earlier this week, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani was quoted by the official Irna news agency as saying: "If Bahrain is supposed to be integrated into another country, it must be Iran and not Saudi Arabia."

The Islamic Propagation Co-ordination Council, which organises state-backed protests, has called for rallies after Friday prayers against what it described as a US plan to annex Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast warned that "any kind of foreign intervention or non-normative plans without respecting people's vote will only deepen the already existing wounds".

Bahrain's foreign ministry condemned the comments, saying they "represent a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom, and gross violation of its sovereignty and independence, and they constitute a completely unacceptable conduct".

The GCC was formed in 1981 as the Sunni-dominated monarchies of the Gulf aimed to bolster security after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and to counter the ambitions of then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18086742
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17 May 2012

Iran 'to sue Google' for not labelling Gulf on world map

The nameless body of water next to the Gulf of Oman is at the centre of a dispute between Iran and Arab countries

Google is facing legal action over its decision to not label the body of water separating Iran and neighbouring Arab Gulf states on its online map service.

The Iranians call the waterway the Persian Gulf, while Arab countries often refer to it as the Arabian Gulf.

Iran has warned Google it will face "serious damages" if it does not denote the area as the Persian Gulf.

The Gulf is bordered by Iran and its Arab neighbours - Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

Google will face serious damages if it does not correct its mistake as soon as possible”

Ramin Mehmanparast
Iranian Foreign Minister
Despite increasing pressure from Arab sources to call it the Arabian Gulf, or at least to use both names, Iran insists historical evidence shows the water has always been Persian.

"If Google does not correct its mistake as soon as possible, we will file an official complaint against Google," said Iranian Foreign Minister Ramin Mehmanparast.

'Missing landmark'
The controversy began earlier this month when Iran's Irna state news agency reported that Google had deleted the Persian Gulf label from its map service.

In a rare show of unity, authorities and the opposition jointly condemned the decision. Thousands of Iranians vented their anger on blogs and in online forums.

Google rejected the criticism, saying the body of water had not been labelled from the start.

A Google spokesperson told the BBC it did not name every place in the world although he was unable to provide an example of a similar case of a missing landmark.

Interactive world map Google Earth, meanwhile, describes the waterway both as Persian Gulf and Arabian Gulf.

Iran has repeatedly criticised countries and organisations that do not use the term Persian Gulf.


Searching for Arabian Gulf elicited a spoof message during an Iranian internet offensive in 2004
In 2010, it warned that airlines using the term Arabian Gulf on in-flight monitors would be barred from Iranian airspace.

The same year, the second Islamic Solidarity Games were cancelled after Arab and Iranian organisers failed to agree on whether to describe the Gulf as Persian or Arabian on medals.

When the National Geographic Society decided to feature both terms in its 2004 world atlas edition, Iranians launched a huge internet offensive.

As a result, anyone searching for the Arabian Gulf on Google found a website saying it did not exist.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18108246
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12 May 2012 Last updated at 00:48 Share this pageEmailPrint
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Support for Iran cartoonist after lashing sentence
By Arash Ahmadi
BBC Monitoring

The row over the cartoon has prompted support for Mahmoud Shokrayeh from fellow cartoonists
Continue reading the main story
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Political cartoonists, like other journalists in Iran, have to tread a fine line - taboo subjects change with the ebb and flow of the political power play among the ruling factions, making it difficult for commentators to determine the lines they cannot cross.

For example, the lampooning of the clerical classes is generally not acceptable, but cartoons of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, himself a man of the cloth, go unpunished.

Current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not immune either - cartoons ridicule his looks and prominent nose. His falling out with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may have something to do this.

So it came as a surprise when a cartoonist was recently sentenced to 25 lashes for publishing a caricature of a right-wing MP from Iran's Central Province.

Mahmoud Shokrayeh's cartoon of Ahmad Lotfi Ashtiani appeared in the Nam-e Amir journal, published in the central city of Arak. It showed the MP wearing a football kit in the middle of a pitch with one arm on his waist, holding an award certificate in one hand and with his foot on a football.

A number of Iranian politicians have recently been criticised for interfering in sports.

'Cruel' punishment
Other Iranian cartoonists were quick to come to Shokrayeh's defence.

Mana Neyestani condemned the sentence on his colleague as "cruel and uncivilised". He went on to call on others to publish more cartoons of the MP in solidarity with Shokrayeh.


Cartoonist Jamal Rahmati challenged Mr Ashtiani to "come and lash me too"
Other reactions followed. Prominent journalist and blogger Masih Alinejad published an interview with Esmail Kowsari, a member of the parliament's National Security Committee.

She quoted the MP as saying: "I doubt such a sentence would be issued for just a caricature. An accusation has its own punishment."

In another post, she wrote: "Mr MP, a caricature does not mean insult and rudeness." Alinejad also praised Mana for his suggestion of more cartoons lampooning the MP.

This was followed by the sudden appearance of a number of cartoons lampooning Mr Ashtiani.

Cartoonist Jamal Rahmati posted a simple cartoon of the MP, with a caption saying: "Mr MP, if drawing your cartoon leads to 25 lashes, please come and lash me too."


Vahid Nikgoo contributed his own caricature of the MP threatening to lash his mirror image
Meanwhile, Vahid Nikgoo's cartoon showed Mr Ashtiani looking into a mirror with a speech bubble saying: "I'll take you to court and sentence you to lashes so that you won't draw me like this any more!"

And comments by Iranians on the Balatarin community website were indicative of the mood.

"If I had the skill, I would draw cartoons of this MP for a whole week and upload them onto the net," wrote Majidkhan. "A plea to all those who can, roll your sleeves up and get drawing!"

"This poor MP made it worse for himself. If he had kept quiet, no-one would have seen the cartoon. He himself has made it go international!" said another.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18037644
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17 May 2012
US ready to attack Iran, says envoy to Israel

Iran says it is enriching uranium to make medical isotopes and fuel for nuclear reactors

The US has plans in place to attack Iran if other measures fail to stop it developing nuclear weapons, Washington's envoy to Israel says.

Dan Shapiro said the US hoped diplomacy and sanctions would persuade Iran to alter its nuclear programme, but a military option was "ready".

US President Obama has previously said military action has not been ruled out.

The US and its allies say Iran is developing a nuclear bomb, an accusation Tehran denies.

Talks between Iran and six world powers are due to resume in Baghdad on 23 May.

'The right thing'
Mr Shapiro made his comments to the Israel Bar Association on Tuesday, a recording of which was later obtained by the Associated Press news agency.

"It would be preferable to resolve this diplomatically through the use of pressure than to use military force," Mr Shapiro said.

"But that doesn't mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it's ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it's ready."

Pentagon spokesman George Little on Thursday stressed that Washington's policy on the issue "has not changed at all".

"The ambassador's comments are perfectly in line with what we have been saying for a while with respect to Iran. Our focus in the US is on using diplomatic and economic instruments... to bring pressure to bear on the Iranians to do the right thing," he said.

Mr Little added that Mr Shapiro "was absolutely correct to say that no options are off the table but those options are not something that are being contemplated at this time".

Both Israel and the US have said they consider military force a last resort to stop Iran using its uranium enrichment programme to make a weapon.

Israel, which feels threatened by the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, has hinted it could launch a pre-emptive strike.

The BBC's Tehran correspondent, James Reynolds, says Mr Shapiro's remarks go further than previous comments by President Barack Obama that all options are on the table, including military action.

Although aimed at an Israeli audience, the ambassador's comments will not go unnoticed in other capitals, including Tehran, our correspondent says.

Sanctions
Six world powers - the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany - are trying to persuade Tehran to reduce uranium enrichment and open up its nuclear facilities to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Fresh talks opened in Istanbul in April - the first for 15 months - and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton described them as "constructive and useful".

The EU, the US and the UN have all imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.

In the past, US officials have stressed the regional instability that would result from any attack on Iran.

In March, Mr Obama said there was "still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution".

He warned there was "too much loose talk of war" and that it was playing into Iran's hands. However, he stressed that all options remained open.

Tehran insists it is enriching uranium to produce medical isotopes and fuel for nuclear reactors.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18110191
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