03/02/2010, 00.00
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Tehran putting the screws on opposition intellectuals and newspapers

Movie director Jafar Panahi, winner of the 2000 Golden Lion, is arrested along with his wife, daughter and others. A weekly close to pro-reform leader Karroubi is shut down. Foreign minister talks about renewing cooperation with the IAEA but criticises its new director

(AsiaNews/Agencies) – Iran is sending signals that it is willing to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on its nuclear programme (however, it accuses the agency’s new director general, Japan’s Yukiya Amano, of bias). At the same time, it is flexing its muscles with its own public opinion, cracking down on intellectuals and the opposition.

Filmmaker Jafar Panahi, winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for his movie The Circle, was arrested in Tehran last night with his wife and daughter. The director’s son, Panah Panahi, told online publication Rahesabz that plainclothes police agents forced their way into his father’s house. The filmmaker is a supporter of the opposition and at the time of his arrest about 15 people were guests in his house, among them actors and filmmakers. They too were taken into custody.

The authorities also shut down opposition publications like the daily Etemad Melli (pictured) and the weekly IranDokht, which are close to Mehdi Karroubi, a pro-reform leader and a former candidate in last year’s presidential. The Press Supervisory Board revoked their licence to publish without providing any reasons.

In the meantime, Israel continues to press the members of the Security Council to impose new sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Following a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow in mid-February, the Kremlin has taken a harder line against Iran.

President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday said that Russia is willing to impose fresh sanctions on Tehran, even though he still hoped for a diplomatic settlement with Iran on nuclear issues.

China too continues to believe that there is still room for diplomatic efforts, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang. Along with Moscow, Beijing has been Tehran’s main supporter in the Security Council, and is very much interested in protecting its important stake in that country’s energy sector.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki tried to reassure the international community by reiterating his government’s willingness to work with the IAEA. “We have fully co-operated with the agency. This co-operation will continue,” he said. “The agreement could be made now, but the realisation, the fulfilment of the swap needs time”.

Last week IAEA General Director Amano said that Tehran was not cooperating with the agency to verify the nature of its nuclear programme.

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