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Asia-pacific

Protesters defy tough warning by Revolutionary Guards

Video by Kate WILLIAMS

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-22

Defying a warning by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards against opposition demonstrations, around 1,000 protesters gathered at a Tehran square Monday, according to witnesses. There are severe media restrictions inside Iran.

Reuters -Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guards on Monday threatened to crack down on street protests after opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi called on supporters to stage more demonstrations over the disputed June 12 election.

"In the current sensitive situation ... the Guards will firmly confront in a revolutionary way rioters and those who violate the law," said a statement on the Guards' website.

The statement by the Guards, viewed as the most loyal guardians of the ruling clerical establishment, clearly signalled a crackdown on any fresh unrest over the re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Despite the warning, about 1,000 supporters of Mousavi gathered in a central Tehran square, a witness said.

"I was passing through Haft-e Tir square and I saw around 1,000 people there," the witness said.

Mousavi, who was officially beaten into second place by Ahmadinejad in an election which he says was rigged, called late on Sunday for fresh protests by his supporters.

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

At the same time, he made a veiled appeal to the security forces to show restraint in handling demonstrations -- a move likely to be viewed with suspicion by a conservative leadership that has vowed to use force to quell opposition.

Ramming the point home, the Revolutionary Guards said they would not hesitate to confront "illegal" protests by defeated presidential candidates, and warned the West to stop backing "rioters".

Evoking the prospects of legal action against Mousavi, Ali Shahrokhi, head of parliament's judiciary committee, said his call for "illegal protests and issuing provocative statements" had been a source of unrest.

"Such criminal acts should be confronted firmly," he said, the semi-official Fars news agency reported. "The ground is paved to pursue Mousavi legally."

Iranian authorities have accused Western powers of supporting the widespread street protests and have not ruled out expulsions of some European ambassadors.

In Rome, the Italian Foreign Ministry said Italy was prepared to open its embassy in Tehran to wounded protesters in coordination with other European nations.

The move follows a Swedish initiative to look into whether European Union nations could put together a plan to take in and provide aid to demonstrators at their embassies in Iran, the ministry said.

Iranian state television said 10 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in demonstrations in Tehran on Saturday, defying a warning from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.



"VANDALS" BLAMED

Authorities pinned the blame for the weekend deaths on "unknown vandals". The office of Tehran's prosecutor general was quoted by Press TV, Iran's English-language television channel, as saying these "vandals" had opened fire on civilians and killed people on Saturday.

The tough warning by the Guards came after the capital had passed its most peaceful night since the election.

Young supporters of Mousavi urged people to carry black candles with green ribbons and encouraged motorists to turn on their headlights for two hours to demonstrate solidarity with victims of unrest, their website said.

The unrest in Iran, a major oil and gas producer, is the most widespread since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which ousted the U.S.-backed shah.

The authorities reject charges of election fraud.

But a spokesman for Iran's top legislative body, which is looking into complaints by the defeated election candidates, conceded that in some constituencies the number of votes had surpassed eligible voters.

"Based on initial information, 50 towns had this problem," Guardian Council spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai was quoted by state broadcaster IRIB as saying on Sunday evening.

He said this might be due to Iranians being able to vote wherever they want, as well as other factors. He said inspectors would look into the issue.

"However, the total votes in these constituencies do not exceed 3 million and consequently will not have any impact on the election," he said.



MOURNING FOR NEDA

Iranians on social networking sites called for mourning for 'Neda', a young woman shot dead on Saturday. Footage of her death has been watched by thousands on the Internet and her image has become an icon of the protests.

"We will gather on the streets of Tehran with candles to bear witness and mourn for Neda and other fallen friends," said one posting from Tehran.

Iran continued to accuse the West, and principally the United States and Britain, of supporting "rioters".

"The promotion of anarchy and vandalism by Western powers and media is by no means acceptable," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a news conference.

U.S. President Barack Obama, at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to halt an Iranian nuclear programme the West fears could yield atomic weapons, has urged Iran to stop violence against protesters.

Government restrictions prevent correspondents working for foreign media from attending protests to report.

Pro-reform clerics such as moderate former president Mohammad Khatami have increased pressure on Iran's conservative leadership.Khatami on Sunday warned of "dangerous consequences" if people were prevented from expressing their demands in peaceful ways.

Date created : 2009-06-22

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