Sun, Jan 03, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Iranian opposition chief remains defiant

‘SERIOUS CRISIS’ After the Iranian government confirmed that eight people had died in clashes, Mir Hossein Mousavi said more deaths would strengthen the opposition

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi on Friday faced down a growing chorus of demands for his arrest and death with his most defiant tone in months, by declaring his readiness to die for the country’s protest movement.

Responding to government pledges to execute its political opponents, Mousavi told the Islamic regime that it would not be able to suppress the Green Movement even if the government killed him or Mehdi Karroubi, a fellow opposition leader.

“I explicitly and clearly state that an order to execute, murder and imprison Mousavi or Karroubi won’t calm the situation,” Mousavi said in a statement on his Web site, Kaleme. “I’m not afraid to be one of the martyrs people have offered in the struggle for their just demands.”

He said Iran faced a “serious crisis” and warned killing more protesters would merely strengthen the opposition. The government has acknowledged that at least eight died in clashes during last Sunday’s Ashura ceremony, including Mousavi’s nephew, Ali Mousavi Khamane. An internal memo from the state news agency, Irna, has put the death toll at 37.

Mousavi’s statement — his first in nearly a month — followed false reports he and Karroubi had either fled Tehran or been taken into custody for their protection as officials issued a series of belligerent statements aimed at quelling the protests. The reports, published by Irna on Wednesday, may have been an attempt to prepare public opinion for the leaders’ arrests.

Hardline clerics have demanded protest leaders be tried and executed on charges of mohareb (fighting against God). Chants of “Death to Mousavi” were heard from ­government supporters at state-sponsored rallies last week. Chief prosecutor Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei reportedly told a closed session of members of parliament that at least three of those arrested on Ashura would be executed soon.

Mousavi’s warning that a tougher crackdown would provoke further protest seemed borne out on Thursday, when protesters were reported to have clashed fiercely with plainclothes government agents and hardline Basij militia members in several areas of Tehran.

Some Mousavi supporters went to his nephew’s grave at Behesht-e Zahra cemetery south of the city, where they are said to have been confronted by security forces.

The call for a reinforced crackdown was reiterated yesterday in a Friday prayer sermon at Tehran University by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a hardline cleric.

“I call on the judiciary to accelerate the legal procedure of those behind the recent unrest,” he said.

Hossein Bastani, an Iranian analyst, said Mousavi and Karroubi were not leading the protests.

“Mousavi and Karroubi have always stressed that the movement has no leader,” he said. “The leaders are people themselves. It’s also important that Mousavi has never stepped back. Many times the authorities, including [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei [the supreme leader] have said they must order their supporters off the streets. But they have never accepted.”

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