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Video by Kate WILLIAMS


Latest update : 2009-06-22

Iran's defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi on Sunday condemned the "mass arrest" of his supporters, and urged his supporters to continue their protests.

REUTERS  - Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi urged his supporters on Sunday to continue their protests over a disputed presidential election, in a direct challenge to the leadership of the Islamic Republic.


Helicopters buzzed through the evening sky over Tehran and gunfire was heard in northern Tehran, a bastion of support for the reformist former prime minister.


"Protesting against lies and fraud (in the election) is your (Iranians) right," Mousavi said in a statement on his website.


"In your protests continue to show restraint. I am expecting armed forces to avoid irreversible damage," he added.


At least 10 people were killed in a crack down on protests on Saturday and Mousavi said the deaths, and the mass arrest of his supporters, would "create a rift between society and the country's armed forces".


Mousavi's comments came the day pro-reform clerics stepped up criticism of Iran's authorities after more than a week of unprecedented popular defiance against the leadership of the Islamic Republic.


A disputed June 12 election which returned to power hardline anti-Western President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sparked the most violent unrest since the Islamic Revolution which ousted the U.S.-backed shah in 1979.


The authorities have dismissed the protesters as "terrorists" and rioters, an indication of their determination to crack down hard on demonstrations.


In pro-Mousavi districts of northern Tehran, supporters took to the rooftops after dusk to chant their defiance, an echo of tactics used in the 1979 Islamic revolution.


"I heard repeated shootings while people were chanting Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) in Niavaran area," said a witness, who asked not to be named.


Another witness heard shooting in Zaferaniyeh district in the north of the capital. There were no immediate reports of casualties.


The shooting appeared to be an attempt by the authorities to break up unsanctioned protests. Government restrictions prevent correspondents working for foreign media from attending protests to report.


As authorities fulminated against protesters backing Mousavi, moderate former President Mohammad Khatami signalled increased opposition among pro-reform clerics to Iran's conservative leadership.


"Preventing people from expressing their demands through civil ways will have dangerous consequences," Khatami, a Mousavi ally, said in a statement quoted by the semi-official Mehr news agency.


His comment, implying criticism of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has backed a ban on protests and defended the outcome of the election, found an echo with Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the most senior dissident cleric.


"Resisting people's demand is religiously prohibited," said Montazeri, an architect of the Islamic revolution who fell out with the present leadership and was under house arrest for some years.


Election 'rigged'


Mousavi, who came second to Ahmadinejad in the poll and whose followers have spearheaded protests, says the election was rigged and must be annulled.


Iran state television said 10 people were killed and more than 100 others injured in protests held in Tehran on Saturday in defiance of a warning from Khamenei. A separate report put the number of deaths at 13.


The harsh tone adopted by the authorities suggested they may be preparing for a crackdown. Police would "confront all gatherings and unrest with all its strength," the official IRNA news agency quoted Tehran's police commander Azizullah Rajabzadeh as saying.


In London, the BBC confirmed that Iran had ordered the broadcaster's correspondent, Jon Leyne, out of the country.


Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari has temporarily been detained in Iran, a source close to the journalist said.


Ahmadinejad meanwhile accused the United States and Britain of interfering in Iran's affairs.


"I advise you (the United States and Britain) to correct your interfering stances," Ahmadinejad was quoted by ISNA news agency as saying at a meeting with clerics and scholars.


U.S. President Barack Obama, in the forefront of diplomatic efforts to halt an Iranian nuclear programme the West fears could yield atomic weapons, met foreign policy advisors for an update on the situation, the White House said in a statement.

Rafsanjani's daughter

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband rejected Ahmadinejad's charge and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Iran to allow peaceful protests and conduct a recount.


Riot police were deployed in force on Saturday, firing teargas and using batons and water cannon to disperse groups of several hundred Iranians who had gathered across the city.


Authorities detained the daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Faezeh, during an opposition rally in Tehran on Saturday, according to state media.


She was detained on Saturday for "alleged involvement in post-election incidents", Iran's English-language Press TV said. Four relatives also detained have been released but Faezeh has "been asked to commit herself in writing not to stir the situation," it said.


The authorities reject charges of election fraud. But the highest legislative body has said it is ready to recount a random 10 percent of votes cast.


Khatami was sceptical. "Referring the dispute to a body which has not been impartial regarding the vote, is not a solution," he said in a statement, Mehr reported.


In Paris, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet told Europe 1 radio that tensions in Iran had added to risks facing the world economy and underlined the need for strengthening the global financial system.


Date created : 2009-06-21