Clad in black, tens of thousands of supporters of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi gathered in the heart of the Iranian capital of Tehran on Thursday, heeding the defeated candidate's call for a day of mourning to commemorate the people killed during protests following last week’s election.
Demonstrators from across Tehran converged on the Imam Khomeini Square, many of them carrying banners that read, "Where are our brothers?" and "Why did you kill our brothers?"
Thursday's rally followed a posting on Mousavi's website on Wednesday, which called on his supporters to dress in black in a show of respect for the seven people killed during clashes between opposition supporters and the pro-government Basij militia on Monday.
Despite the Iranian government’s attempts to block access to news sites, social networking sites and SMS messages announcing demonstrations, there have been daily protests in Tehran following Friday’s disputed presidential election. There were also reports of demonstrations in other Iranian cities, including the southwestern city of Shiraz.
Iranian opposition supporters have attempted to circumvent government censors by using proxy servers and posting images and videos on video-sharing sites. Following the Iranian government’s tightening of media restrictions, international news organisations have increasingly relied on witness reports as well as images and video footage supplied by ordinary Iranians.
Opposition rejects partial vote recount offer
Mousavi has been calling for fresh elections following the official results of Friday’s poll, which declared incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the undisputed winner.
The opposition leader and former Iranian prime minister has rejected the offer by the country’s powerful Guardian Council to hold a partial vote recount.
Speaking to FRANCE 24 from Tehran, Parisa Hafesi, bureau chief for the Reuters news service, said a re-election would put the Guardian Council in a difficult position. “It will be very difficult for the clerical establishment to hold a second election because this will undermine the system,” said Hafesi.
All eyes on the clerical establishment
Some analysts believe Mousavi has been lobbying some senior clerics in the holy city of Qom who are influential in the clerical establishment.
Reporting from Tehran, AFP correspondent Farhad Pouladi told FRANCE 24 that clerics close to reformist former president Mohammad Khatami had issued a statement on a website calling on Tehran’s governor to issue a licence for demonstrations.
Khatami has supported Mousavi’s bid for the presidency.
Earlier this week, some of the protests, which were officially illegal, turned violent and there have been crackdowns, especially on university students. There have also been a growing number of arrests of Mousavi supporters, politicians and journalists in the past few days.
In a letter addressed to the Iranian authorities and posted on the Internet on Wednesday, Mousavi and Khatami issued a joint letter calling for the release of those arrested and a halt to the violence.
"We ask you to take all the necessary measures to put an end to today's worrying situation, to stop the violent actions against people and to free those arrested," said the letter, which was published on Mousavi's website.