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Tension mounts in Tehran ahead of day of protest


Video by Sarah DRURY


Latest update : 2009-06-20

A spokesperson for the party of the reformist Mehdi Karoubi told Reuters that their demonstration has been called off. The police has informed opposition figures that protests will be dealt with firmly, according to Iranian state news.

REUTERS - Iran's state broadcaster said a group of moderate clerics had called off a planned protest rally in Tehran on Saturday against disputed election results because no permission had been granted.

The announcement, hours before the rally was due to go ahead at 4 p.m. (1130 GMT), contradicted a statement from an aide to one of the defeated election candidates who earlier said the rally would go ahead.

"The demonstration plan has not been cancelled and accordingly it must be held this afternoon," said the aide to liberal cleric Mehdi Karoubi, a day after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded an end to street protests.

Khamenei issued a strong warning on Friday to leaders of demonstrations that they would be responsible for any bloodshed if protests continued against the June 12 vote, which he said was fairly won by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

His words hinted at a future crackdown by authorities on rallies after the election, which Ahmadinejad's main challenger Mirhossein Mousavi says was rigged. Mousavi and Karoubi have called for the poll to be annulled.

Khamenei's warning was reinforced by a senior police commander who said that "beginning today any gathering critical of the election would be illegal and police will deal with it firmly and with determination".

Mousavi, Karoubi and the third defeated candidate Mohsen Rezaie were invited to a special session of Iran's top legislative body, the Guardian Council, which has said it could recount disputed ballot boxes but ruled out a fresh election.

At their last rally in Tehran on Thursday, Mousavi supporters held banners saying they would gather again two days later at around 4 p.m. (1130 GMT). But an ally of Mousavi said the moderate politician had not called for people to take to the streets on Saturday or Sunday.

His supporters may decide to show up anyway, as they did in their tens of thousands last Tuesday despite a call by Mousavi for them to stay home. The protests have been the most widespread in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"If there is any bloodshed, leaders of the protests will be held directly responsible," the white-bearded Khamenei told huge crowds thronging Tehran University for Friday prayers.

State media have reported seven or eight people killed in unrest since the election outcome was published on June 13, prompting Mousavi's supporters to hold mass rallies in Tehran, with demonstrations reported in several Iranian cities.

Scores of reformists have been arrested and authorities have cracked down on foreign and domestic media.

President Barack Obama condemned the violence carried out by security forces and believed Iranians should be free to protest, his spokesman said on Friday after Khamenei's speech, sharpening the White House's rhetoric over the post-election events.

In a sign of defiance, Mousavi backers took to Tehran rooftops after nightfall on Friday to shout Allahu Akbar (God is greatest), an echo of tactics in the 1979 Islamic revolution.


Khamenei called for calm in his country, a major oil exporter embroiled in dispute with major powers over its nuclear programme which the West suspects could be used to make bombs. Tehran says its nuclear work is peaceful.

He also attacked what he called interference by foreign powers who had questioned the result of the election.

Britain said it had summoned the Iranian ambassador to complain about Khamenei's speech, in which he also called the British "the most treacherous" of Iran's enemies.

Asked about the call by Khamenei for street protests to end, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday: "He (Obama) believes that those who wish to have their voices heard should be able to do that without fear of violence."

"I think you're ... witnessing something extraordinary ... I'm not sure that anybody even a week ago or so would have expected to see the courageous images that we're seeing now."

The semi-official Fars News Agency said on Saturday the Guardian council had begun its extraordinary meeting, to which it had invited the three beaten candidates to discuss 646 complaints against the election results.

Conservative candidate Rezaie was taking part in the meeting but Mousavi and Karoubi had not yet joined the session.

The election result showed Mousavi won 34 percent of the votes to Ahmadinejad's tally of nearly 63 percent.

Iran's national security council dismissed a complaint by Mousavi, in a letter to the Interior Ministry body earlier this week, about plainclothes men using weapons such as sticks and metal rods to attack protesters.

"Your national duty and responsibility would require that instead of raising charges against police or army forces ... to try to avoid such illegal gatherings and not support them," Fars News Agency quoted its secretary Abbas Mohtaj as saying.



Date created : 2009-06-20