Thu, Jun 25, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Tehran defiant despite street protests, world pressure

REUTERS , TEHRAN

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday that a disputed election result would stand, despite street protests that Iranian officials say Britain and the US have incited.

“I had insisted and will insist on implementing the law on the election issue,” Khamenei said. “Neither the establishment nor the nation will yield to pressure at any cost.”

Now that police and religious militia have regained apparent control of the streets after the biggest anti-government protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran's hardline leadership is blaming the discontent on foreign powers.

“Britain, America and the Zionist regime [Israel] were behind the recent unrest in Tehran,” Iranian Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli said, according to Fars news agency.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran was weighing whether to downgrade ties with Britain after each country expelled two diplomats this week. He also announced he had “no plans” to attend a G8 meeting in Italy this week on Afghanistan.

His remarks, a day after US President Barack Obama said he was “appalled and outraged” by the clampdown in Iran, provided more evidence of rising tension with the West.

The unexpected upheaval in Iran has thrown a spanner into Obama's plans to engage the Islamic Republic in a substantive dialogue over its nuclear program, which Tehran says is peaceful but which the West suspects is for bomb-making.

Security forces have clamped a tight grip on Tehran to prevent more rallies against the June 12 poll, which reformists say was rigged to return Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and keep out moderate former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi.

The furor over the election has exposed deep rifts within Iran's political elite, with Khamenei solidly backing Ahmadinejad against Mousavi, who has the support of former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami.

Many of Iran's senior Shiite clerics in the holy city of Qom have stayed out of the political fray, although Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri has called for three days of national mourning from yesterday for those killed in protests.

Montazeri was once named successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but fell out with the father of the revolution before he died in 1989. He has spent years under house arrest in Qom.

At least 17 people have been killed in the protests. Amateur footage of clashes with security men, and of some of the deaths, has been posted on the Internet and viewed around the world.

Reformist cleric Mehdi Karoubi, who came last in the election, has urged Iranians to mourn the dead today.

Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, demanded the immediate release of people detained since the election — who include 25 employees of her husband's newspaper — and criticized the presence of armed forces in the streets, his Web site reported.

“It is my duty to continue legal protests to preserve Iranian rights,” Rahnavard, who actively campaigned with her husband before the election, was quoted as saying.

Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei said some British passport holders had been involved in “riots,” Fars news agency reported.

He said one of those arrested was “disguised as a journalist and he was collecting information needed by the enemies.”

Also See: Obama toughens up on Tehran

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