Iran’s army (Artesh) conducted a 24-hour drill involving its ground forces in Western Azerbaijan Province, northwest Iran, bordering Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Fars news agency reported on Sunday, October 25.
Iran’s armed forces are composed mainly of the traditional Army (Artesh) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) or the Revolutionary Guards.
The Fars report does not say when exactly the military exercise took place or how long ago it was pre-planned. Iran has announced the deployment of IRGC units near the battlefield between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces on southern banks of the Aras river, which separates Iran from its two neighbors to the north.
Iranian officials have also warned the two countries not to harm civilians in Iran. More than 100 mortars and rockets have hit Iranian towns and villages since the fighting broke out in late September.
General Kiumars Heydari, commander of the army’s ground forces was quotes by Fars as saying that following orders by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who is also commander in chief of the armed forces, major restructuring, turning mechanized infantry units into mobile attack forces. He added the exercise had both nighttime and daytime phases.
It is not clear to what extent the army drills are related to the ongoing war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but Heydari himself was reported to be inspecting the border region four day ago.
Iran has good relations with both of its northern neighbors and is generally neutral in the current conflict, calling for talks and offering mediation. But any significant change in the balance of forces in the Caucasus could be cause for concern for Tehran.
Iran To Decide Whether To Extend Monitoring Deal With IAEA
Iran will decide whether to extend its monitoring deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after its expiry on June 24, Iranian state TV's news website quoted presidential chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi as saying on Wednesday.
"It has been decided that after the expiration of the agreement's deadline, Iran's Supreme National Security Council (will) decide about the agreement's extension at its first meeting," Vaezi said, according to the website.
Iran and the United States have been holding indirect talks since April to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, the JCPOA that former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 and imposed stringent sanctions on Tehran. Iran has been demanding the lifting of those sanctions and has gradually accelerated it nuclear program as a means of pressure. One of these measures was the decision in February to reduce monitoring cooperation with the IAEA.
But Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog reached a three-month accord in late February - which was extended on May 24 for a month - to cushion the blow of Tehran's decision to reduce its cooperation with the IAEA by ending extra monitoring measures introduced by its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
More Workers Join The General Strike Of Petrochemical Sector In Iran
As workers from ten more petrochemical plants joined a nationwide strike of refinery and power generation employees in Iran, Tehran refinery officials threatened to fire 700 strikers.
On Wednesday, regular employees of Abadan refinery in the southeast, contract workers of a refinery in the north, and other companies in south-central Iran, in Esfahan and workers of a power plant in Ahvaz and elsewhere joined the general strike announced yesterday.
The strike began with workers from half a dozen large petrochemical concerns and spread to other companies and plants later Tuesday, with more joining on Wednesday.
Videos and reports indicate that officials of Tehran refinery where a major fire broke out a few weeks ago, distributed discharge forms among hundreds of workers as a threat to fire them from their jobs.
Workers are demanding higher pay amid a 50-percent inflation in the country, where food prices have risen even faster. In some companies even the current low wages have not been paid on time. Most industries in Iran are either directly or indirectly owned by the state or by people close to those who run the country.
The strike movement is dubbed “Campaign 1400”, referring to the current Iranian calendar year 1400. Presidential elections last Friday witnessed the lowest turnout ever in the Islamic Republic’s 42-year history. A movement to boycott the election was seen as having had an impact on voters who are disillusioned by the government’s record both with managing the economy and with use of force against those who protest or demand change.
Final Ballot Count In Iran Adds 95,000 Votes To Raisi's Total
Iran election commission chairman, Jamal Orf reported Wednesday that the last of 91 balot boxes from the June 18 presidential election were counted and 50 thousand votes added to the general count. However, he said that the count for the four candidates increased by 144,000 votes, presumably by adding from ballots previously regarded as void.
President-elect Ebrahim Raisi’s total votes increased by 95,000, surpassing 18 million votes. The vote totals for the other three candidates also increased marginally.
Orf also announced that in the final count 28,750,736 ballots were cast from 59 million eligible voters. He added that 3,740,688 ballots were considered as void. This is the highest number of void ballots in any presidential election, which was also the lowest ever in turnout that reached 48 percent. In the past three elections turnout was always above 70 percent.
Many voters decided to stay home disillusioned by the leadership’s record both in terms of the dire economic conditions and lack of political and freedoms. As Iran’s economy began to deteriorate in 2017, large protests erupted periodically that were met by overwhelming force. In November 2019, security forces used military weapons to kill hundreds of protesters.
More Than 800 Schools In Iran's Capita Are 'Dilapidated'
The general director of Tehran’s education department announced Wednesday that the city’s fire department has warned of impending danger from 827 dilapidated school buildings in Iran’s capital.
Abdolreza Fooladvand called attention to critical safety conditions at schools, as officials have been sounding the alarm in recent years, especially about educational buildings outside the capital and in remote regions.
Foolandvand told local media that his department is planning to sell many smaller and older school buildings and use the money to repair about 200 schools. Schools currently in operation in Tehran are crowded by students but some older and smaller buildings in prime locations can fetch high prices.
Officials and members of parliament have repeated warnings that many schools in the capital are unsafe. Farideh Oladghobad, a former member of parliament warned in January 2018 that 50 percent of school buildings were dilapidated and presented.
In January 2020, Iran’s minister of education Mohsen Haji Mirzaei visiting Syria pledged help to reconstruct schools in the war-torn country. His statement drew sharp rebukes on social media at the time, by Iranians who urged the government to fix schools in Iran.
Tehran has around two million students in primary and secondary education, who prior to the Covid-19 pandemic went to schools in morning and afternoon shifts because of lack of classrooms.
US Blocks Iran-Linked Websites For Spreading Disinformation
Mid-day Tuesday Washington DC time, the websites of Iran’s Press TV, Alalam TV and al-Masirah news went offline with a notice posted that appears from the United States Government. Alalam is also linked with Iran while al-Masirah is a network linked with Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis.
The notice says that the domain has been seized by the United States Government in accordance with a seizure warrant…as part of a law enforcement action by the Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The US government has not issued a statement at the time of this publication. CNN anf Fox news later confirmed the development citing US government sources and reported that more than 30 sites have been seized for spreading misinformation.
Iranian state-controlled news agencies said that the US government had seized several Iranian media websites and sites belonging to groups affiliated with Iran such as Yemen's Houthi movement.
There have been reports in the past about Iranian efforts at misinformation, including during last year's US elections.
Petrochemical Workers Go On Strike In Iran Demanding Higher Pay
Reports from Iran say workers in the petrochemical sector have gone on strike in Tehran and southern Iran, where most plants are located, demanding higher wages amid high inflation.
With the motto of “We will not give up our rights”, the workers have launched “Strike campaign 1400”, referring to the current Iranian calendar year 1400. Images published on social media show workers on strike and congregating to demand more pay and better conditions in several cities.
Workers from Jahan Pars, Gachsaran Petrochemicals, Tehran Refinery, Abadan Refinery and other plants and companies were refusing to work.
Iran’s inflation rate has surpassed 50 percent and prices for food have gone up around 70 percent in the past 12 months. US sanctions have stopped most of Iran’s oil exports and the government has resorted to printing money to close a huge budget gap. As a result, the national currency has depreciated eightfold in the past three years.
Hundreds of oil and gas industry workers protested on May 26 against Petroleum Minister Bijan Zanganeh, demanding higher pay. Workers gathered in Tehran outside parliament as well as in Ahvaz, capital of the oil-producing Khuzestan province chanting slogans against lack of proper pay amid rising prices.
Worker strikes and protests have been a daily occurrence in the country with many arrested and a few labor activists tortured in prison.
Saudi Arabia Says It Will Judge Iran's Raisi By 'Reality On The Ground'
Saudi Arabia will judge Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi's government by "the reality on the ground", the kingdom's foreign minister said on Tuesday, while adding that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has the final say on foreign policy.
Raisi, a hardline judge who secured an expected election victory on Saturday, said on Monday he wanted to improve ties with Gulf Arab neighbors while calling on regional rival Saudi Arabia to immediately halt its intervention in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia opposes the Iran nuclear deal that Tehran and Washington are trying to revive in indirect talks.
"From our perspective, foreign policy in Iran is in any case run by the supreme leader and therefore we base our interactions and our approach to Iran on the reality on the ground, and that is what we will judge the new government on, regardless of who is in charge," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told a news conference with his Austrian counterpart.
He did not say how he wanted that reality to change but he did say he was "very concerned" about unanswered questions on Iran's nuclear program, an apparent reference to the UN nuclear watchdog seeking explanations on the origin of uranium particles found at undeclared sites in Iran.
Saudi Arabia and Gulf allies continue to pressure Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran says is entirely peaceful, and its ballistic missiles.
In a bid to contain tensions between them, Saudi Arabia and Iran began direct talks in April.
Report by Reuters
Iran Seizes 7,000 Illegal Cryptocurrency Mining Computers
Iranian police have seized 7,000 illegal cryptocurrency mining computers, their largest haul to date of the energy-guzzling machines that have exacerbated power outages in Iran, state media reported on Tuesday.
In late May, Iran banned the mining of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin for nearly four months as part of efforts to reduce the incidence of power blackouts blamed by officials on surging electricity demand during the searingly hot and dry summer.
Tehran police chief General Hossein Rahimi said the 7,000 computer miners were seized in an abandoned factory in the west of the capital, the state news agency IRNA reported.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are created through a process known as mining, where powerful computers compete with each other to solve complex mathematical problems. The process is highly energy-intensive, often relying on electricity generated by fossil fuels, which are abundant in Iran.
According to blockchain analytics firm Elliptic, around 4.5% of all bitcoin mining takes place in Iran, giving it hundreds of million dollars in revenue from cryptocurrencies that can be used to lessen the impact of U.S. sanctions.
Iran has accepted crypto mining in recent years, offering cheap power and requiring miners to sell their bitcoins to the central bank. Tehran allows cryptocurrencies mined in Iran to be used to pay for imports of authorised goods.
The prospect of cheap state-subsidised power has attracted miners, particularly from China, to Iran. Generating the electricity they use requires the equivalent of around 10 million barrels of crude oil a year, or 4% of total Iranian oil exports in 2020, according to Elliptic.
Report by Reuters
Iran Says US Criticism Of Its Presidential Election Is Meddling
Iran accused the United States on Tuesday of interference for saying its presidential election on Friday was neither free nor fair, Iranian state media reported.
The US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday the United States viewed the process that made Ebrahim Raisi Iran's president-elect as "pretty manufactured", reiterating the US view that the election was neither free nor fair.
"We consider this statement as interference in our domestic affairs, contrary to international law and reject it," Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei was quoted by state media as saying.
"The US government is not in a position to have the authority to express its views on the process of elections in Iran or any other country," Rabiei said.
Although Price criticized the election, he reiterated that the Biden administration will continue to pursue an agreement over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal and added, “even though Iran will have a new president in the coming weeks, ultimately it is Iran’s supreme leader who determines Iran’s policy on a range of important issues.
Raisi, a hardline judge who is under US sanctions over human rights abuses, secured victory as expected on Saturday in Iran's presidential election after a contest marked by voter apathy over economic hardships and political restrictions.
More than half of eligible voters were too dissatisfied to vote or appeared to have heeded calls by dissidents at home and abroad to boycott the election. A deterrent for many pro-reform voters was a lack of choice, after a hardline election body barred prominent moderates and conservatives from running.
Reporting by Reuters