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Mousavi to make first appearance at Friday prayers

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Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi plans to attend Friday prayers this week in his first official public appearance since the disputed election that provoked mass protests by his supporters last month.


Reuters - Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi plans to attend Friday prayers this week in his first official public appearance since a disputed election that provoked mass protests by his supporters last month.


A statement on his website confirmed reports the defeated candidate would be present at the weekly prayers at Tehran University to be led by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a rival of re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


Clearly reflecting concern the event may turn into a show of strength by Ahmadinejad’s pro-reform opponents, Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei told Fars News Agency:


“The vigilant Iranian nation must be aware that tomorrow’s sermon should not turn to an arena for undesirable scenes.”


Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s main challenger in the June 12 vote, says it was rigged in the hardline incumbent’s favour.


The election further strained ties between Iran and the West, already at odds over Tehran’s disputed nuclear ambitions. Western powers criticised the protest crackdown and Iran, the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, accused them of meddling.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday Iran’s intentions were unclear following the vote and that President Barack Obama’s offer of talks with Tehran over its nuclear programme was not open-ended.


A reformist newspaper, Etemad, said Mousavi had voiced continued defiance in a meeting on Tuesday with the family of 19-year-old Sohrab Aarabi, who human rights activists say was killed during demonstrations after the vote.


State media say at least 20 people were killed during clashes between protesters and riot police backed by the Basij religious militia. Some rights activists say the death toll was higher. The authorities and Mousavi blame each other for the bloodshed.


The authorities reject charges of vote fraud, but the election and its turbulent aftermath also exposed deepening divisions within the Islamic Republic’s leadership.


Mousavi has said he will join a planned group of leading figures to follow up people’s rights and “ignored” votes.


“God willing, we will all move forward in the way that we have chosen...This is an irreversible path,” Mousavi told Aarabi’s mother, Etemad reported.


Mousavi, who was accompanied by his wife Zahra Rahnavard, said he would not allow the teenager’s “blood to be trampled” and vowed to follow up his case, Etemad said.


Reformers turn


Iran’s most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, upheld Ahmadinejad’s landslide win in his Friday sermon one week after the election.


But Mousavi, who was prime minister in the 1980s, has said Ahmadinejad’s next government would be illegitimate.


Rafsanjani, an influential cleric who backed Mousavi’s election campaign, will lead the prayers after a two-month absence. Some of his relatives, including his daughter Faezeh, were arrested briefly for taking part in pro-Mousavi rallies.


On Tuesday, Etemad said both Mousavi and his reformist ally, former President Mohammad Khatami, would attend the prayers, which are broadcast live to a potentially huge audience.


“Since I regard as obligatory responding to the invitation of the sympathisers and supporters in the path of safeguarding legitimate rights of a free and honourable life, I will maintain a presence alongside you on Friday,” Mousavi’s statement said.


Anoush Ehteshami, an Iran expert at Britain’s Durham University, said he did not expect Rafsanjani to stir any great controversy during his sermon.


“I doubt he can stand there and say, all right, go back on the streets to protest against the election result,” he said. “But nor can he ignore a reference to the election outcome. That would be totally discrediting to his standing.”


Ahmadinejad was not likely to attend, Ehteshami said: “This is, if you like, the reformers’ turn at the Friday prayer.”


Editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari of the hardline Kayhan daily said some pro-Mousavi media saw the sermon as a chance for the losing candidate’s supporters to demonstrate against the election result and to chant slogans “dictated from abroad”.


But Shariatmadari said he expected Rafsanjani to “clearly and openly take position against the rioters and condemn their illegal acts”. The same editor, who is close to Iran’s leadership, earlier this month said Mousavi should go on trial. AFP - Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, Iran's atomic chief who has spearheaded the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear programme for more than a decade, has resigned, the ISNA news agency said Thursday.

ISNA said that Aghazadeh had also quit as the country's vice president, adding that he submitted his resignation letter to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad almost three weeks ago which was accepted.

The report gave no reasons for the resignation, which comes a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed a limited US offer to hold a dialogue with Tehran over the nuclear standoff.

Aghazadeh is a veteran official of the Islamic republic and was executive deputy to Mir Hossein Mousavi during his premiership in the 1980s.

Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's closest rival in presidential elections last month but who lost heavily to the incumbent, has charged that the vote was rigged.

His challenge of the official results sparked massive anti-Ahmadinejad protests which saw hundreds of thousands of demonstrators take to the streets of Tehran and other cities.

Aghazadeh was also oil minister from 1985 to 1997 after which he was appointed chief of the atomic organisation under reformist president Mohammad Khatami.

He continued to serve in the same capacity under Ahmadinejad and has been deeply involved in Iran's nuclear programme.

Global powers led by Washington suspect Tehran's nuclear drive is aimed at making atomic weapons, a charge strongly denied by the Islamic republic and on several occasions by Aghazadeh himself.

Aghazadeh has supervised the nuclear programme which Iran says has developed technology able to master the complete nuclear fuel cycle.

At the heart of Iran's nuclear controversy lies its defiant continuation of enriching uranium. Highly enriched uranium can be used to make atomic weapons while low enriched uranium is used in nuclear power plants.

Clinton on Wednesday renewed a US offer to engage Iran in talks aimed at resolving the nuclear crisis.

She repeated previous calls to "lead with diplomacy, even in the cases of adversaries or nations with whom we disagree."

Since assuming office in January, US President Barack Obama has taken steps towards engaging Iran diplomatically, departing from the policies of former president George W. Bush who refused direct negotiations with Iran and spearheaded pressure for economic sanctions against the Islamic republic.

Washington severed ties with Iran in 1980 in the wake of the Islamic revolution after Islamist students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days.

Clinton said that neither she nor Obama held "any illusions" that direct talks with Iran "will guarantee success."

On July 8, the top US envoy called for "stricter" sanctions against Iran if it fails to respond to US efforts at engagement and change its behavior.

And at last week's summit of the Group of Eight leaders, Obama warned that the world will not wait "indefinitely" for a response to its offer of dialogue with Iran on the nuclear issue.

He said leaders would re-evaluate the "Iranian position" in September.

The G8 joint declaration expressed "serious concern" over post-election violence in Iran but called for a negotiated resolution to the standoff over Tehran's nuclear programme, giving it until September's G20 summit.

A meeting of G20 leaders is due to be held at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 24-25.


On July 11, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran is preparing a package for the international community aimed at resolving all regional and global disputes.

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