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Guardian Council praises 'cleanest' vote



Latest update : 2009-06-26

Iran's electoral watchdog, the Guardian Council, has sternly rejected allegations of fraud in the June 12 presidential election and said the contested vote as the "cleanest" ever in the Islamic Republic's history.

AFP - Iran's electoral watchdog insisted on Friday that this month's disputed presidential vote was the cleanest ever, rejecting opposition allegations of fraud that have brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets.

"After 10 days of examination, we did not see any major irregularities," Guardians Council spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai told the official IRNA news agency.

"We have had no fraud in any presidential election and this one was the cleanest election we have had. I can say with certainty that there was no fraud in this election."

The council is expected to give its final ruling on Monday after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave it an additional five days to investigate complaints filed by the defeated candidates.

Two weeks after the vote, protests in Tehran over hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election have receded after the authorities responded to the worst crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution with a fierce crackdown that has intensified despite an international outcry.

State-run English-language Press TV said on Thursday that 20 people have been killed in the protests, including eight members of Iran’s Basij militia. Other state media have reported that 17 civilians have been killed.

Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight most industrialised nations were expected to condemn the post-election violence at a meeting in Italy on Friday.

But they were also expected to keep the door open to dialogue after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that isolating Iran was the "wrong approach."

US senators bluntly charged on Thursday that the June 12 election was rigged and vowed to help the opposition defeat curbs on news and the social networking Internet sites it has used to organise demonstrations.

But since an address to the nation last week by the Iranian supreme leader in which he warned that the defeated candidates would be held responsible for any "blood, violence and chaos" on the streets of Tehran, the protests have nearly stopped.

A massive deployment of police armed with batons, along with hundreds of Basij militiamen, has ensured that the few spontaneous demonstrations that have been held have been swiftly dispersed.

On Wednesday, an attempt by a few hundred demonstrators to gather near parliament was quashed by police and militiamen, witnesses told AFP.

The arrest of hundreds of political activists and academics, the blocking of several Internet websites and restrictions on foreign media have further stifled the protest movement.

The authorities have denied the opposition permission to hold any rallies or even mourning ceremonies for demonstrators killed over the past two weeks.

Foreign media have been banned from covering any street protests.

Iran expelled the BBC's Tehran correspondent on Sunday, accusing him of "supporting the rioters," and has also arrested a British-Greek and an Iranian-Canadian journalist working for US publications.

Despite the restrictions, images of police brutality have still spread worldwide via amateur video over the Internet. One clip in particular of the fatal shooting of young woman demonstrator Neda Agah-Soltan has come to symbolise the regime's iron-fisted response to the protests.

Arash Hejazi, a doctor who tried to save her, told the BBC the shooter was identified by the crowd as a Basij militiaman.

Hejazi, who was near Neda at that time of her death earlier this week, said: "We heard a gunshot. And Neda was standing one metre (yard) away from me ... We were just standing and all of a sudden I turned back and I saw blood gushing out of Neda's chest," adding she died in "less than a minute."

The main opposition leader, former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has described the election as a "shameful fraud," vowed on Thursday to continue his campaign for a re-run despite the pressure he is facing from the authorities.

"My access to people is completely restricted," he said, but he added: "I won't refrain from securing the rights of the Iranian people... because of personal interests and the fear of threats."

Although the street protests have died down, Iran's rulers are still facing a major crisis, with cracks emerging within the regime itself.

Dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri -- once the designated successor to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- warned Iran's rulers on Thursday that their suppression of opposition protests could threaten the very foundations of the Islamic republic.

Conservative parliament speaker Ali Larijani and more than 100 MPs meanwhile boycotted a victory dinner hosted by Ahmadinejad, press reports said.

Date created : 2009-06-26