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Latest update : 2009-12-14

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned opposition leaders to distance themselves from protesters, whom he accused of insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini.

AFP - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned opposition leaders on Sunday to distance themselves from protesters he accused of acting against the Islamic regime's late founder Ayatollah Khomeini.

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have faced mounting pressure since December 7 anti-government protests during which a poster of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was allegedly torn up.

"Those who shout slogans in the name of these people (opposition leaders), hoist their pictures and speak of them with respect are in a point which is the exact opposite of the Imam (Khomeini), revolution and Islam," Khamenei said on state television.

"When you see this, step aside," he said to opposition leaders and defeated presidential candidates Mousavi and Karroubi, describing them as his "former brothers."

"I don't believe in purging, I believe in maximum attraction, but it looks as if some people insist on distancing themselves from the system and they have turned a family dispute into a battle against the system," Khamenei said.

Other prominent Iranian figures also denounced the actions of the protesters, with influential cleric and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is close to the opposition, strongly condemning insults against Khomeini "by whoever, for whatever motives," according to news agencies.

Opposition supporters staged fresh anti-government rallies on December 7 and their leaders have defiantly vowed to continue protesting against the June 12 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in what they say was a massively rigged poll.

The sloganeering has grown more radical than in the early protests, and regime loyalists have held angry demonstrations against the "insulting" of Khomeini on the Islamic republic's Students Day last Monday.

The counter-protests were triggered by state television airing footage of a torn poster of Khomeini. Opposition leaders condemned the act and also rebuked the state television.

Former president Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who is a key opposition figure, blamed the authorities for sparking moves such as ripping up Khomeini's picture.

"Such bothersome issues are the result of... those improper confrontations and arrests and unfair accusations against public-serving figures," he said in comments carried on his website Sunday.

"Protesting is our religious and revolutionary duty," he said.

Khamenei has accused Western powers of instigating the post-vote unrest, and on Sunday warned the opposition leaders that "they should realise something is wrong with them when US, French and British leaders, who are the embodiment of tyranny, support them.

"They should be warned when they see all corrupt people, monarchists, communists, exiled dancers and musicians support them," said the all-powerful leader.

There has been speculation on some opposition websites that Mousavi might be arrested following the latest attacks against him and his supporters.

Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, who played a key role in suppressing protests, on Sunday called for the punishment of those behind the insults against Khomeini.

"Khomeini's followers will not tolerate silence and faltering in exposing, putting on trial and quick punishment of those who committed this outrageous act, which undoubtedly stems from foreign enemies' think-tanks and internal plotters," the Guards said in a statement.

The election has bitterly divided Iran's political class and plunged the 30-year-old Islamic republic into one of its worst crises.

Khamenei, who has openly sided with Ahmadinejad after the poll, once again on Sunday, defended the election as "lawful and correct."

He called on regime-loyalists angered by the torn poster to "keep calm" and said the post-vote unrest, which has now dragged on for six months, is "like bubbles on water."

"What is there to stay is the Islamic system," the supreme leader said.

Date created : 2009-12-13

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