Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iran May Recount Some Votes After Protesters Killed

Iran’s Guardian Council, which supervises elections, may order a recount of some votes in the disputed presidential ballot after the biggest anti-government demonstrations since the shah was deposed in 1979.

The council of 12 clerics and lawyers may authorize a second count in areas where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory was questioned, state television quoted Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the body’s spokesman, as saying today. He said all three challengers in the June 12 election had made “vague” complaints and were asked to elaborate. Kadkhodaei didn’t say what proportion of the 39 million votes cast may be reviewed.

Supporters of former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi, who accuse the authorities of vote-rigging, planned a fourth day of rallies, including a gathering in central Tehran. Tens of thousands of Ahmadinejad’s supporters took part in a demonstration in the city ahead of the opposition rally, state television said.

As many as eight people were killed and 25 injured yesterday when security forces fired on protesters, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported, citing state radio.

The possibility of invalidating votes “is not far from the imagination,” Kadkhodaei said today in response to a question at a news conference in Tehran. “But how accurate are the claims? That must be studied.” The Council ruled out a demand by opposition leaders to scrap the election result, Sky News reported, citing state television.

Rial Falls

The Iranian rial fell for a second day, declining 0.8 percent to 9,915 against the dollar. The currency’s rate is managed by Bank Markazi, the central bank. Iran’s benchmark index, the TEPIX, dropped 0.3 percent to 9,271, trimming the advance for 2009 to 7 percent, according to data published on the Web site of the Tehran Stock Exchange.

Mousavi and another candidate, former Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karrubi, 71, rejected a partial recount, the Iranian Labor News Agency said.

“As the representative of Mousavi and Karrubi, I asked for the election to be annulled and fresh elections to be held,” ILNA cited Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, the head of a joint committee set up by Mousavi and Karrubi, as saying.

The unidentified representative of a third unsuccessful candidate, Mohsen Rezai, 54, a former Revolutionary Guards commander, asked for a partial recount, Mohtashamipour said at a news conference following a meeting with the Guardian Council. Mohtashamipour said he had rejected that idea.

Unemployment, Inflation

The protests are pitting young Iranians and more educated voters who want social freedoms and better ties with the West against the Islamic republic’s ruling clergy. Ahmadinejad is accused by his opponents of wrecking the economy, which suffers from high unemployment and inflation, and driving Iran into international isolation through his confrontation over the country’s nuclear program.

The U.S. and several major allies including Israel say the nuclear program is cover for the development of a weapon, a charge denied by the government in Tehran, which says the work is peaceful and intended to generate electricity.

Iranian authorities ordered restrictions today on the activities of foreign media organizations in the country.

“No reporting activities should take place without coordination and permission of this office,” the Culture Ministry in Tehran said in a faxed statement. Reporters should avoid being present at or covering illegal protests without the permission of the Interior Ministry, it added.

Results Tentative

Mousavi, 67, has called for the election result to be scrapped after the official tally gave him about 34 percent of the vote and the incumbent almost 63 percent.

The results announced by the Interior Ministry are tentative and must be verified by the Guardian Council, Kadkhodaei said. The opposition candidates’ complaints will be discussed in the next 10 days, he added.

Human rights groups have accused state security forces of using excessive violence to quell the protests and said live ammunition was used on demonstrators in several Iranian cities.

Mousavi called today for calm at demonstrations in Tehran. He said he won’t attend the event in the city, according to a statement on his Web site.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has told Mousavi to pursue his complaint through legal channels and asked the Guardian Council to carefully consider the allegations, state television reported.


While such an investigation is little more than a “gesture,” the decision to examine the fairness of the election shows that the Iranian leadership feels it is under pressure, said Professor Anoush Ehteshami, a lecturer at the Centre for Iranian Studies at Durham University in northeastern England.

Ahmadinejad, 52, who has insisted the election was fair, was today attending a meeting in Yekaterinburg, Russia, with the leaders of Russia, China, India and Central Asian nations. At the event, the president said the U.S. and its allies are incapable of solving the global financial crisis, declaring, “The end of the era of empires is near.”

In what may be a sign of tensions within the ruling elite, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani held accountable Interior Minister Sadegh Mahsouli for attacks on civilians and university students in Tehran in recent days, ILNA reported.

Speaker’s Comments

“What’s the meaning of attacking university students at midnight in their dormitory,” Larijani said at the start of a Parliamentary session today, the news agency reported. “The interior minister is responsible for this and should answer.”

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former vice president who was an adviser to ex-Parliament Speaker Karrubi, was arrested overnight, Karrubi’s office said. Another prominent activist, Saeed Hajjarian, was also held, according to Karrubi’s office.

Security forces arrested the “main agents” behind post- election unrest and found them armed with guns and explosives, Sky News reported, citing Iran’s state television.

Iranian leaders will probably take decisive action to quell the protests, said Richard Bulliet, an Iran specialist at Columbia University.

“It will be dampened down and the U.S. and foreign governments will have to resign themselves to dealing with the Ahmadinejad regime,” Bulliet, a professor of history at Columbia’s Middle East Institute, said by phone yesterday from New York.

Nuclear Weapons

Ahmadinejad may see success at the ballot box as a vindication of his policies. That could be a setback for the Obama administration’s policy of engaging Iran in dialogue, rather than ostracizing it, as a means to ensure the Islamic republic doesn’t acquire nuclear weapons.

President Barack Obama said the “world is watching” the demonstrations. “We do believe the Iranian people and their voices should be heard,” Obama said yesterday in Washington, adding he is “deeply troubled” by the situation in the country.

It is “extremely unlikely that there will be any significant adjustment in the election outcome,” Alastair Newton, a senior political analyst at Nomura International Plc in London wrote in a market commentary yesterday.

Markets in general and the oil market in particular will follow political developments in the region increasingly closely after the election, Newton said. Further United Nations sanctions remain more likely than military intervention if Iran fails to respond substantively to international pressure on its nuclear program.

‘Diplomatic Efforts’

“But, absent of evidence of real progress with diplomatic efforts by the year-end, we continue to judge that the likelihood of Israeli military intervention could start to increase sharply,” Newton said.

Crude oil rose for the first time in three days as the dollar weakened against the euro and before a report forecast to show a drop in U.S. inventories. Crude for July delivery rose $1.79, or 2.5 percent, to $72.41 a barrel at 9:05 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“For the time being, the Iranian situation seems to be neutral,” said Edward Meir, analyst with MF Global Ltd. in Connecticut. “Although the oil markets were unimpressed by the frenzied weekend developments,” events seem “to have picked up a gear over the past 24 hours, in that the size of the opposition protests have become significantly larger.”

Shah Ousted

The shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was ousted in 1979 after months of anti-monarchy demonstrations. He had ascended the Peacock Throne after his father was forced out by allied forces in World War II. The shah developed closer ties to the West and promoted economic development, angering many Shiite Muslims who favored adherence to religious tradition, during a reign that became increasingly autocratic.

By the mid-1970s, the shah’s links to the U.S. and the suppression of dissent were fueling anger among university students, the poor and the Shiite Muslim clergy. Anti-shah riots spread throughout 1978 and his opponents united behind Shiite leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

From exile in Paris, Khomeini declared the civilian government illegal on Jan. 13, 1979, and announced the establishment of an Islamic council to replace it. Three days later, the shah left the country. Khomeini returned to a hero’s welcome on Feb. 1, 1979, and became the theocracy’s highest authority. The shah died in 1980 in Egypt.