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Iran to hold new naval exercises

Iran's Revolutionary Guards will hold new naval exercises in the strategic Strait of Hormuz in February, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

The announcement comes only two days after Iran's navy ended another set of war games near the Strait, the passageway for about a third of the world's oil tanker traffic.

Tehran's periodic naval manoeuvres come under close international scrutiny, as some Iranian officials have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz should the West strike the country's nuclear facilities or embargo oil exports.

The report quoted the Guard's naval commander, Admiral Ali Fadavi, as saying that the latest exercise would be the seventh staging of an annual drill dubbed "The Great Prophet".

He said the drill would be held in the Iranian month of Bahman, which mainly corresponds to February.

The Guards, Iran's most powerful military force, have the same air, naval and ground branches as the regular armed forces. They are also in charge of Iran's missile programme.

Iran's regular navy has just ended a 10-day drill in the waters off the Strait, dubbed "Velayat 90".

Military officers said Iran held the drill to show off its prowess and defence capabilities. The country regularly holds war games and has also been active in fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

The drill however was also the latest in a series of Iranian shows of strength, as international criticism mounts over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme.

The West fears the programme is aimed at developing atomic weapons, while Iran denies those charges, insisting it is for peaceful purposes only.

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