Sat, Aug 08, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Iranian opposition continues protests

‘DEATH TO DICTATOR’: Despite a heavy police presence and the mass trial of reformers, a witness said hundreds of Mirhossein Mousavi supporters took to the streets

REUTERS , TEHRAN

Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Wednesday against the swearing in of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

PHOTO: AFP

Hundreds of supporters of Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi chanted “death to the dictator” in Tehran on Thursday, a witness said, a day after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in as president.

The renewed protests come despite a heavy police presence and the mass trial of some 100 leading reformers accused of fomenting unrest that has continued for eight weeks since disputed June 12 polls returned hardliner Ahmadinejad to office.

“Hundreds of people are in Vanak Square, chanting ‘death to the dictator.’ Others are also honking car horns,” the witness said. “Hundreds of riot police are there as well.”

The witness said riot police tried to disperse protesters.

“They are telling protesters to leave the area or face being arrested,” the witness said.

The election and protests that followed, some of them the biggest anti-government demonstrations the Islamic republic has ever seen, have exposed deep divides among Iran’s political and clerical elite.

Mousavi and the other defeated pro-reform candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, say the election was rigged and the next government will be illegitimate — defying Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has formally endorsed Ahmadinejad.

Authorities say the vote was “the healthiest” election since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

Leading reformists, who support Mousavi, boycotted Ahmadinejad’s inauguration ceremony, defying Khamenei’s call to preserve unity after the vote.

The Etemad-e Melli newspaper said on Thursday at least 55 moderate and several hardline lawmakers were also absent from the ceremony. Hundreds of pro-Mousavi supporters gathered near parliament, where the ceremony was held.

Ahmadinejad has been criticized by hardliners angered by his initial choice of Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie as his first vice-president.

They were further upset when he took a week to obey Khamenei’s order to dismiss Mashaie.

A few hours after Ahmadinejad took the oath of office, Karoubi said moderates would continue their “fight” over the vote, criticizing the authorities for “suppressing street protests,” his Web site said.

US President Barack Obama and the leaders of France, Britain, Italy and Germany have all decided not to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his re-election.

Ahmadinejad reacted angrily, saying: “No one in Iran is waiting for your messages.”

Iran accuses the West, particularly the US and Britain, of fomenting vote protests to weaken the clerical establishment. They deny the charge.

A senior police official said on Thursday that 26 people had been killed since the June 12 election. Since the vote, hundreds have been arrested, including dozens of prominent moderate lawyers, politicians, journalists and campaigners.

Armed men raided and sealed the Tehran offices of the Association of Iranian Journalists late on Wednesday, said the International Federation of Journalists, which also called for Iran to free up to 42 jailed reporters.

A court opened the mass trial of more than 100 reformists last Saturday on charges of inciting the post-election unrests. Moderates called it a “show trial.”

Ahmadinejad has two weeks to present a Cabinet to parliament for approval but may get a rough ride from the conservatives who dominate the assembly, as well as from his moderate foes.

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