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Asia-pacific

High voter turnout is blow to the West, says Ahmadinejad

Video by Jean-Rémy BAUDOT

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-15

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has defended his disputed re-election, claiming the massive turnout in Friday's poll was a blow to "the oppressive system ruling the world," in a reference to the United States and its allies.

AFP - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday defended his hotly disputed re-election as security forces cracked down on opposition protestors in Tehran, where fresh violence erupted.

Police said they have rounded up a total of 170 people over the massive post-election protests and street riots which erupted in the Iranian capital after Ahmadinejad's defeated challengers complained of fraud and vote-rigging.

Analysts have warned that the dramatic events could pose a risk to the future of the Shiite-dominated country, which has been under the control of powerful clerics since the Islamic revoluion three decades ago.

But Ahmadinejad dismissed criticism of the election, saying at a press conference the massive turnout was a blow to the "oppressive system ruling the world," a reference to Iran's arch-foe the United States.

He said his margin of victory over his main rival, moderate ex-premier Mir Hossein Mousavi, was so wide it could not be questioned and said the election was like a "football match" and the loser should just "let it go."

But clashes flared again on Sunday, a day after thousands of angry opposition supporters took to the streets over the election result, triggering rioting on a scale not seen in Iran for a decade.

In one street, police fired into the air to break up a demonstration, while on another, about 200 Mousavi supporters shouting "Death to the dictator!" lobbed stones at police who fired back with tear gas.

Among those arrested by police were around 15 reformist leaders and supporters of Ahmadinejad's defeated rivals who complained of fraud in the most hotly-contested presidential election in the Islamic republic.

Tehran's deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan said a total of 170 people had been arrested, including "masterminds" of the rioting, and warned that the security forces would deal "firmly" with the protests.

The election results dashed Western hopes of change after four years under the combative Ahmadinejad, who set Iran on a collision course with the international community over its nuclear drive and his anti-Israeli tirades.

One leading conservative in Tehran insisted that US President Barack Obama's "motto of change" and "velvet revolutions" had no place in Iran.

World governments have so far reacted cautiously, while voicing concern about the vote-rigging allegations and the election violence.

Official results gave 52-year-old Ahmadinejad 63 percent of the vote, crushing his closest rival Mousavi who gained just 34 percent.

But Mousavi, who has not been seen in public since the vote results cried foul over what he branded a "charade," saying it was marred by cheating and election irregularities.

Reformist sources said those arrested also included several people who served under two-time reformist president Mohmmad Khatami, including his brother, and supporters of former parliament speaker Karroubi.

"Last night after midnight they came to our door, Taghi went to open the door and they arrested him right there and pushed him into a car," said Narges Mohammadi, wife of Taghi Rahmani, a prominent dissident who has previously been jailed for harming national security.

Several have since been released, reformist sources said.

Iranian authorities said all unauthorised demonstrations were banned, and even before Friday's election the elite Revolutionary Guards had warned it would put down any "velvet revolution."

Iran's all-powerful supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state including foreign and nuclear policy, urged the country to unite behind Ahmadinejad.

The election campaign, with its mudslinging candidate debates and mass street rallies, appears to have galvanised a grass-roots push for change in a country where 60 percent of the population was born after 1979.

It highlighted deep divisions in Iran, with massive support for Ahmadinejad in the rural heartland and among the poor, while in the big cities young men and women threw their weight behind Mousavi.

But Mehdi Chamran, the head of Tehran city council and a prominent conservative, said Obama's "motto of change" had no place in Iran.

"Iran's identity does not allow a blind imitation... velvet and coloured revolutions do not work among our people," he said in the Hamshahri newspaper.

Obama has reached out to the Muslim world and called for dialogue with Iran after three decades of severed ties, a break from the approach of his predecessor George W. Bush who once labelled Iran part of an "axis of evil."

"We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.


In Washington, analysts warned that Ahmadinejad's return would complicate efforts to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear drive, which Ahmadinejad said on Sunday was "history".

The West fears it is a cover for ambitions to build atomic weapons but Tehran insists it is for peaceful purposes only and has defied international demands to halt uranium enrichment despite UN sanctions.

Israel voiced concern over the return of Ahmadinejad, who has caused international outrage by describing the Holocaust as a myth and calling for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map.

Date created : 2009-06-14

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