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FarsiNet's Iran News
November 1997, Week 4

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OPEC Raises Oil Output 10 Percent
AP Business Writer
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -- OPEC ministers agreed Saturday to pump more oil, running the risk of lower prices to accommodate a move by top producer Saudi Arabia to assert more influence over the market.

The 11-member oil cartel raised its stated production ceiling by 10 percent, with the Saudis and their allies in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates prevailing over other producers who fear prices will fall.

Cheaper costs for oil, the most vital commodity in the world economy, would be a bargain for consumers but bad news for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers.

Iran and Libya tried but failed to hold the line at a smaller increase, or no increase at all, worrying that global demand will not rise fast enough to accommodate all the new oil.

The oil ministers set OPEC's official production ceiling at 27.5 million barrels a day, up from the current 25.033 million-barrel limit that is being widely violated. The new number was at the top end of those being negotiated over the last four days.

The increase in actual oil production will be more modest than the stated 2.5 million barrels a day, given the massive cheating on output quotas that complicates any correlation between OPEC's official numbers and real shipments going onto the market.

In a way, OPEC's new numbers -- reached in its most contentious talks in years -- merely narrow the gap between the facts and fictions of the group's oil production.

But the revised numbers aren't entirely bogus. OPEC oil production could go as high as 28.5 million barrels a day -- 1 million barrels over the new ceiling and about 700,000 barrels over the group's current true production, a Persian Gulf source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The ministers who lost the battle for a smaller number sought to play down any damage. But Libya's Abdalla Salem el-Badri predicted oil prices would quickly fall by $1 per barrel.

``For the stability of OPEC, we agree with this ceiling and we hope this will not affect the price. Maybe it will drop by $1 for the first two weeks and then go up,'' el-Badri said.

Others were less optimistic that any price fall could soon reverse itself.

``Usually, when you raise production, prices go down,'' said Sa'doon J. Al-Zubaidi, Iraq's ambassador to Indonesia, who led his country's delegation.

The OPEC ministers who pushed through the higher output numbers insisted world demand is strong enough to take the additional oil without spooking the market.

Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali Naimi is the most powerful member of the group because he controls by far the most oil. Naimi jolted OPEC and put oil traders on notice earlier this month when he signaled that Saudi Arabia wanted to pump more, after several frustrating years of restraining production to prop up prices while others boosted output to capacity and increased their market share.

Saudi Arabia now holds an OPEC quota of 8.76 million barrels a day -- which could bring another half-million barrels daily onto the market. The Saudis previously had a quota of 8 million barrels, but were generally believed to be pumping around 8.3 million daily this autumn.

Two other big gulf producers, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, also are expected to soon start selling more.

OPEC's secretary general, Rilwanu Lukman, wouldn't talk specifics about prices.

``Our idea is not to have lower prices,'' Lukman told a news conference. OPEC's new production ceiling covers the first half of 1998, but Lukman would not say whether the group would hold any emergency meetings to rethink its strategy if oil plunges.

``You are speculating now,'' Lukman told reporters.

The Saudis have not flexed their muscle for some time within OPEC, which for years routinely has rolled over the same old production quotas.

But after watching the others cheat, and seeing non-OPEC sources such as Western companies operating in the North Sea claim a bigger market share, the kingdom's oil bosses decided to act.

Futures traders will start giving their verdict when markets open Monday.

OPEC members are Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

Prices of light sweet crude oil were down to about $19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange last week in anticipation of OPEC's move toward increased production.

Man held in Iran for abusing 40 women-paper
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) - A foreigner linked to a Western embassy has been held in Iran on charges of sexually abusing 40 young women he had duped with false promises of visas and trips abroad, a newspaper said Thursday.

The daily Kayhan said the man took the "naive Iranian girls" to a house belonging to an unnamed Western embassy under the pretense of teaching them foreign languages and abused them after promising to help them leave the country.

It said the man, who was "helped by elements linked to a certain Western embassy," would be tried soon. He is also accused of using some of the women to lure others to the house.

The women have brought charges against the man and his accomplices, the newspaper said. It did not give their names or nationality.

The case came to the attention of authorities after the women were "observed entering and leaving the building as a result of covert and open controls," the newspaper said.

If convicted, the man could face the death sentence -- the specific penalty under Iran's Islamic laws for a non-Muslim man committing adultery with a Muslim woman.

Rafsanjani Backs Iran Supreme Leader, Urges Unity
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Friday backed the Islamic republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urging all Iranians including his critics to unite behind him.

``It would be most unjust if someone were to say that the country has not been run well under his (Khamenei) honourable leadership,'' Rafsanjani said in a Friday prayer conciliatory sermon to thousands of worshippers gathered at the Tehran University campus.

``During these past eight years, Iran has been transformed from a country in ruins to a powerful state in full development...with such a defence capability that even great world powers do not dare move against it,'' Rafsanjani said.

His sermon was broadcast on Tehran radio. Khamenei succeeded Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as supreme leader after his death in 1989. Under Iran's constitution, the supreme leader is the top state authority and supersedes the president. He has the final say on all matters of state.

Rafsanjani said a distinction should be made between enemies ``America, Israel and counter-revolutionaries'' and critics at home who have questioned Khamenei's wide powers.

The criticisms have sparked demonstrations by conservative backers of Khamenei in the past two weeks and an attack on the offices of dissident Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.

Montazeri questioned Khamenei's qualification to become the top Shi'ite Moslem spiritual guide in addition to being Iran's supreme political leader. He also said Khamenei should only have a supervisory role and not absolute power.

``All of us, those who have some criticism and those who do not, should join hands and unite in these sensitive times. We should not confuse the society...and not do anything that pleases our enemies,'' Rafsanjani said.

``Those who have (critical) views should raise them in calm and in the right way. If they have proposals for reforms, these will be studied,'' said Rafsanjani, who now heads a powerful policy-making state body.

He did not name Montazeri and did not refer to a call by Khamenei on Wednesday that dissidents should be brought to justice for illegal acts and ``treason.''

Montazeri, 75, has been Iran's most prominent dissident since Khomeini dismissed him as his designated successor shortly before his death. Montazeri had criticised government policies including the treatment of political prisoners.

Criticism of Khamenei's wide powers has also come from other clerics, left-wing Islamists close to moderate President Mohammad Khatami and members of tolerated opposition groups.

The debate has sharpened since Khatami defeated conservative candidates backed by the clerical establishment in May polls.

The new president has repeatedly pledged allegiance to Khamenei and refused to be drawn into the debate.

Iran Announces Amnesty for 1,905 Prisoners
TEHRAN - XINHUA - Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced today to pardon prisoners or commute some others' sentences, involving 1,905 convicts.

According to the Iranian official news agency IRNA, Khamenei made the amnesty to mark the Eid-e Mabas on Friday, the anniversary of Islamic Prophet Mohammad's appointment as the last messenger of God.

The amnesty was proposed by Iranian Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi and endorsed by Khamenei, IRNA said without giving any details.

Iran Militia Stages Show of Support
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Five million members of a volunteer militia demonstrated in public squares and stadiums nationwide Wednesday in support of Iran's spiritual leader and against an outspoken cleric, the official news agency reported.

``Those who have tried to break unity among the people by disrupting public security and sowing discord ... have committed treason against the people, the revolution and the country,'' Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on national television. ``They should be punished according to the law.''

Khamenei apparently was referring to Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, who caused an uproar earlier this month when he questioned the legitimacy of Iran's clerical rule.

Clerical rule has led to competing secular and religious power centers. Montazeri reportedly urged the relatively moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, to resign unless Khamenei's powers were curbed.

The Islamic Republic News Agency said members of the paramilitary force known as the Basij assembled at military bases, public squares and stadiums in major cities. About a third of them were women in black gowns and red headbands inscribed with religious slogans.

Demonstrators carried the national flag and shouted, ``Long live Velayat-e Faqih'' -- or rule of the clergy -- and ``Death to the enemies of Velyat-e Faqih.''

Montazeri, who is in his 70s, had been the political heir to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Shortly before Khomeini's death in 1989, Montazeri fell from grace for being too critical of the cleric's hard-line policies. He has been under house arrest since then.

Last week, hard-line militants demonstrated outside Montazeri's house. Guards whisked the ayatollah away, but nobody has said where he is. There have been smaller protests almost every day this week.

Montazeri has a large following in Iran, though the government positions Khamenei as the sole leader of Islam's Shiite sect.

Khamenei Defends IRAN'S Supreme Leadership
TEHRAN - XINHUA - Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei today defended the country's supreme leadership, describing it as the backbone of the Islamic system of government, the Iranian official news agency IRNA reported.

In an address to a large group of Basij (mobilization volunteer) forces here this afternoon, Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, asked his supporters to halt protest rallies with the aim of calming down the current situation.

Khamenei said he, as a member of this nation, is duty bound to defend the supreme leadership, Velayat-e Faqih (governance of supreme religious jurisprudent).

More and more groups, factions and figures have announced to hold large rallies throughout the country Friday in order to voice their support for the country's supreme leadership and condemn the controversial remarks by Aytallah Hussein Ali Montazeri, a religious canonist.

Montazeri accused Khamenei of having too much interference in the government's affairs and claimed that a leader should be supervisor to monitor the government's affairs rather than directly intervene.

During the past week, rallies and demonstrations were held throughout the country and even hundreds of religious teachers and students attacked Montazeri's office in the religious city of Qom.

Khamenei said that "the recent conspiracies to erode Velayat-e Faqih have been architected by the enemies and carried out by some naive individuals."

He said that with a strong leadership, all the conspiracies of the enemies have failed and would face similar fate in the future.

Iran To Prosecute Critics without Laxity-Khamenei
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday blasted dissidents who have questioned his authority and said they would be prosecuted ``without any laxity.''

``If what they (dissidents) have done is illegal, which it is; if it is treason against the people, which it is -- then executive and judicial officials should carry out their duty against these individuals...,'' Khamenei said in a speech carried on Tehran radio. ``And I am informed that they are going to carry it out and that there will be no laxity.''

Tehran bazaar joins demonstrations backing leader
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) - Traders in the Tehran Bazaar closed shop Monday on the fourth day of nationwide demonstrations against critics who have questioned the authority of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

State radio and television gave wide coverage to marches held in several cities condemning dissidents as "naive and misled elements serving a plot by world arrogance (West)."

Thousands of traders gathered at the Imam Khomeini Mosque in the heart of the Tehran Bazaar in support of Khamenei, who succeeded Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to the country's highest office when the founder of the Islamic Revolution died in 1989.

Amid slogans condemning "recent conspiracies by agents who seek to divide the nation," the bazaaris held banners proclaiming "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" and calling for the death of those opposed to Khamenei's absolute authority.

Other chants included: "What is America thinking of? Khamenei is the same as Khomeini."

A major state-affiliated Islamic body said nationwide marches would be held Friday.

Support for Khamenei, a 58-year-old conservative-minded Shiite Muslim clergyman who wields unchallengeable power over all institutions of government, has turned to anger at his detractors, notably Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.

The controversy erupted last week into one of Iran's most violent demonstrations in recent years. Police used tear gas to disperse angry marchers who attacked offices of Montazeri and another prominent critical cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Azari Qomi, in the holy Shiite city of Qom.

The head of Iran's judiciary Friday warned dissidents they could face harsher popular reaction if they did not cease their public opposition.

Montazeri, 75, is the most prominent of Khamenei's critics ranging from senior clerics to liberal Muslim opposition members who have mounted an unprecedented challenge to the supreme leader's authority. Khamenei's position also supersedes the presidency now occupied by moderate cleric Mohammad Khatami.

Khomeini dismissed Montazeri as his designated successor shortly before his death. Montazeri had criticized government policies including treatment of political prisoners.

Based in Qom, 75 miles south of Tehran, Montazeri has recently questioned Khamenei's qualification to become the Shiites' top spiritual guide as well as Iran's political leader.

The debate has sharpened since Khatami, a moderate in comparison with other clergymen, swept to victory in a landslide presidential election in May that buried candidates backed by the conservative clerical establishment.

The new president has repeatedly pledged allegiance to the supreme leader and refused to be drawn into the debate.

Iran Assures Smooth Holding of Oic Summit
TEHRAN - XINHUA - Iran today ruled out any impact of its recent political developments on the forthcoming summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) due to be held here next month.

"Iran is the most stable country in the region and we do not believe the recent political developments in Iran would have any impact on the OIC summit," Sadeq Kharrazi, head of the preparation body for the summit, said at a press conference today.

Last week, rallies and demonstrations were held across Iran condemning Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, a famous religious canonist, who accused Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of interfering in the affairs of the government.

Kharrazi said that other countries also had such political issues, but the Iranian government had not shown any concern.

Meanwhile, he said that Iran was fully prepared for the summit, adding that of the 55 OIC members, 27 heads of state had announced to attend the summit.

He disclosed that the seat of Afghanistan at the summit would be vacant due to the chaotic situation in the war-torn country.

He said that the issues of Jerusalem, Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan would be the main subjects of the summit.

Experts Assembly Support IRAN'S Supreme Leader
TEHRAN - XINHUA - Iran's Experts Assembly has reaffirmed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the country's supreme leader, the Iranian official news agency IRNA reported today.

The assembly is of the opinion that Khamenei is the jurisprudent who has all qualifications stipulated in Article 109 of the Constitution dealing with leadership, the assembly's secretariat said in a statement issued on Sunday.

The statement said that the assembly selected Khamenei as the leader from all jurisprudents by taking into account all criteria and principles stipulated in the constitution.

It said that "support for Velayat-e Faqih (governance of supreme religious jurisprudent) and leadership of the supreme leader is incumbent upon all those loyal to the Islamic system."

It added that any attempt to weaken this fundamental principle would be a great sin and against the interests of Islam and the Islamic Republic.

The assembly, which is based in Iran's religious city Qom some 100 kilometers south of the capital, condemned "the vicious, discord-sowing moves by some ill-informed figures or malicious personalities who viciously foster the idea of separating the nation and the leadership."

On November 14, a famous religious canonist, Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, criticized Khamenei for interfering in government affairs, saying that the leader should be a supervisor to monitor the affairs, rather than directly intervene.

The controversial remark by the disgraced former successor-designate of the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini triggered strong condemnation from religious and political figures and organizations.

On Wednesday, several hundreds of religious instructors and students stormed Montazeri's office in Qom and the police was forced to use tear gas to disperse the protesters.

During the past few days, rallies and demonstrations were held throughout the country to condemn Montazeri's remark and voice supports for Khamenei.

Zahra Mostafavi, daughter of the late Khomeini, issued a message to the Iranian nation on Sunday claiming she heard by herself that her father named Khamenei as his successor even before Montazeri was disqualified from the post in 1989.

Observers here noted that Montazeri's remark was the first challenge to Ayatollah Khamenei and indicated more serious political struggle in Iran.

German, French Ambassadors Back to Iran
TEHRAN -XINHUA - The German and French ambassadors to Iran returned to their posts this morning, marking the end of a seven-month diplomatic crisis between Iran and the European Union (EU).

German ambassador Horst Baechmann and French ambassador Jean-Pierre Masset arrived here on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt. They were the last two of EU envoys to resume their missions in Tehran.

Other EU envoys were back in town November 14, one day after Iran reached a compromise with the EU by announcing to accept a proposal of EU rotating Chairman, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jacques Poos.

The 15 EU countries recalled their ambassadors last April in protest after a Berlin court ruled Iranian leaders were involved in a political assassination of Kurdish dissidents in 1992.

The arrival of German and French ambassadors in Tehran will allow Iranian envoys to these two countries to return in the near future.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on last Friday voiced Iran's welcome to the return of EU ambassadors, local newspaper Iran Daily reported today.

"We hope that, with the ambassadors' return, the process of developing our ties is going to resume its course," Kharrazi was quoted as saying.

However, Iran's deputy foreign minister for Euro-American affairs, Morteza Sarmadi, claimed last Wednesday that Iran's relations with EU countries would not be at the same level despite the end of diplomatic row.

Sarmadi said that the grounds for joint cooperation and the understanding of EU countries about the reality in Iran, especially under the new government, determine the level of Iran's ties with them.

He said Iran has developed a negative mentality about certain counties and the continuation of long-term relations with them as a result of their bad performance. They must strive in the future to make corrections, he demanded.

Iran's Judiciary Chief Warns Cleric
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- The leader of Iran's judiciary warned an anti-government cleric Friday to stop questioning the legitimacy of Iran's leadership -- or else.

A Tehran protest added emphasis to the ominously vague warning to Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, with about 1,000 people turning out to chant ``Traitor!'' and ``Death to Montazeri!''

Montazeri, one of Shiite Muslims' most senior theologians, crossed Iran's Islamic government last week when he issued a statement questioning the authority of the nation's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Pro-government Muslim militants occupied Montazeri's house in the holy city of Qom on Thursday, a day after security guards had to whisk the cleric to safety when a mob attacked his home.

The official Islamic Republic News agency said Montazeri, who is in his mid-70s, was well, but his whereabouts were unknown.

The conflict between Montazeri and the government has the potential to turn into a serious crisis. Montazeri has a considerable following in Iran and any attempt to arrest or punish him could lead to widespread protests and violence.

In Paris, Massoud Rajavi, the head of an Iranian dissident group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, issued a statement Friday condemning the attacks on Montazeri.

Once the political heir to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for Iran's top leadership, Montazeri fell from grace for being too critical of Khomeini's hard-line policies. He was placed under house arrest just before Khomeini died in 1989 and Khamenei was appointed Iran's spiritual leader.

In a Friday sermon broadcast by Tehran radio, the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, said Iran's enemies were using Montazeri to stir up trouble.

``This gentleman should understand that if he accepts the Islamic system, he can live freely. Otherwise, the people will take the next step,'' Yazdi said, without elaborating.

Yazdi has been among Khamenei's staunchest supporters. He was behind a campaign two years ago to elevate Khamenei as the spiritual leader of Shiites, who make up about 10 percent of the world's 1 billion Muslims.

The campaign backfired when other senior clerics questioned Khamenei's religious credentials.

Montazeri has criticized a system that has led to competing power centers, while the supreme leader can dictate all policies and stands above the law.

With the conservative Khamenei as supreme leader, Iran's moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, is nearly powerless to implement his own policies.

Yazdi, and Khamenei's other staunch supporters, say this position is the basis of Iran's Islamic system. Critics say Khomeini was the only person qualified to have that much power.

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