Hundreds of thousands join banned Tehran protest

Mirhossein Mousavi, the defeated reformist in Iran's presidential election, has joined a banned mass demonstration in Tehran on the third day of protests against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


AFP - Defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi appeared in public on Monday for the first time since the election that has divided the nation, joining thousands of supporters who defied a ban to stage a mass rally in Tehran.

Mousavi turned up in a car at the opposition march to protest at what the moderate wartime premier has branded a rigged "charade," on the third day of public demonstrations following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's landslide win.

"Mousavi we support you! We will die but retrieve our votes!" shouted the crowds of thousands, young and old, who poured into central Tehran in defiance of an interior ministry ban on the march.

Iran's supreme leader has ordered a top regime body to look into the complaints raised by the moderate Mousavi, as Iran faced a growing international backlash over the validity of the election and the subsequent crackdown on opposition protests.

Ahmadinejad has defended the results of an election that gave the combative hardliner another four years in power, denting Western hopes of a change in domestic and foreign policy of the oil-rich Shiite-dominated nation.

As riot police looked on, demonstrators, some wearing the green of Mousavi's campaign colour, streamed into central Tehran despite the ban, raising the possibility of tense confrontations.

"No authorisation for a march or gathering has been issued and any kind of gathering or march is illegal," an interior ministry spokesman said.

State television said supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had told Mousavi to pursue his complaints against the most hotly-disputed election in the Islamic republic through legal and peaceful means, state television reported.

The former wartime premier lodged a formal appeal on Sunday for the cancellation of the results, which stoked the worst unrest in the Islamic republic for a decade.

Former president Mohammad Khatami, a key Mousavi backer who was succeeded by Ahmadinejad, wants the results of the vote cancelled and a new election held, his brother said.

Khamenei said the 12-member Guardians Council had been advised to "precisely examine" Mousavi's letter. A spokesan for the body said it would announce its decision in 10 days.

European governments complained about the tactics used against protestors and added their voices to US doubt over the election outcome, with the EU calling on Tehran to launch a probe into the results.

Monday's opposition demonstration comes a day after Ahmadinejad himself addressed a victory rally of vast crowds of supporters in Tehran to defend the results, saying the passions aroused by the results were like a football match.

"Elections in Iran are the cleanest," he said. "Today, we should appreciate the great triumph of the people of Iran against the united front of all the world arrogance (the West) and the psychological war launched by the enemy."

The authorities have warned that they would crush any "velvet revolution" in Iran and police said they have rounded up 170 people over the protests, including a number of reformist leaders.

Relatives of those arrested protested outside Tehran's main revolutionary court on Monday. "You can beat us as much as you can, but take us to our children," shouted one woman as a policeman nearby beat a man in order to disperse the crowd of around 200.

Germany -- Iran's most important Western trading partner, along with Britain and France -- joined the Islamic republic's archfoes the United States and Israel in questioning the results of the vote.

"The very serious doubts that have been raised about the free and fair nature of the election counting process are obviously of major concern to many people in Iran," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the action of the security forces as "completely unacceptable."

US Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday there was "an awful lot of doubt" about the vote, but nevertheless reiterated Washington's willingness to engage in talks after three decades of severed ties.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, whose country Ahmadinejad has said should be wiped off the map, said during a visit to France that his return to power was "bad news."

The Iranian authorities have also cracked down on local and foreign media, with Mousavi's own newspaper reportedly suspended and international outlets reporting the arrest and harassment of their journalists.

Telephone and Internet services have also been disrupted.

On Saturday, Tehran witnessed widespread clashes between baton-wielding police and stone-throwing protestors who set bins and vehicles on fire in violence on a scale not seen since 1999 when student demonstrations led to a week of deadly nationwide unrest.

Ahmadinejad's first term in office had already set Iran on a collision course with the international community over its nuclear drive, his anti-Israeli tirades and restrictions on society.

And Iran's nuclear programme, which the West fears could be a cover for ambitions to build atomic weapons, was in the spotlight of a meeting of the UN atomic watchdog on Monday.

Iranian analysts have warned that the disputed nature of Ahmadinejad's victory could weaken Iran from within and isolate it further from the outside world.

"The perception of many Iranians that their vote was not taken into consideration will weigh heavily on the legitimacy of future elections," said Tehran-based analyst Sayeed Laylaz.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning