Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iranian Opposition Stages Rally in Central Tehran

Tens of thousands of supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated main challenger in the disputed Iranian presidential election, rallied in central Tehran, Sky News said, after the biggest protest in 30 years led to as many as 15 deaths.

Two prominent Mousavi backers were detained earlier today, AFP reported after Iran’s supreme leader yesterday appealed for unity following a meeting with representatives of candidates in June 12 presidential voting.

Video of today’s gathering in Haft Tir Square was posted on Facebook and follows a June 15 rally that was the largest anti- government demonstration since the Islamic revolution ousted Iran’s shah in 1979, triggered by opposition accusations of vote-rigging to re-elect President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Several people were reported killed. Mousavi has called a mass demonstration tomorrow to mourn the deaths. Tehran’s bazaar merchants, a group that backed the 1979 revolution, may strike to protest the election, the BBC said.

Election turmoil is pitting young Iranians and more educated voters who want social freedom and better ties with the West against the Islamic republic’s ruling clergy. Ahmadinejad’s opponents accuse him 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 head of the UN nuclear agency said he believed Iran wanted the option of an atomic bomb.

Biggest Crisis

The Iranian regime “is going through its biggest crisis in 30 years,” said Mohammad-Reza Djalili, an Iranian analyst at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. “The structure of the system has been shaken, and now it has cracks.”

State television’s news channel showed interviews with people on the streets calling the protesters enemies of the state and quoting officials as saying protests at the vote should be made through proper legal channels.

Mousavi said the same people who committed fraud in the June 12 ballot were responsible for damaging public buildings during the protests. “It’s the companions of lies and fraud that attack banks and public buildings to complete their scheme,” he said in comments on his Web site.

“Use of plain-clothed forces that are used by the security bodies, only shows that the police are aware of the contradiction of what they are doing with what is their duty,” Mousavi said in an open letter to the Iranian National Security Council.

Mousavi Letter

In the letter published on Ghalam News Web site, Mousavi warned against the involvement of plain-clothed militia in protest rallies. He said they use guns, attack people, destroy public buildings, and provoke the crowds.

Five players of Iran’s national soccer team wore green wristbands during the first half of a World Cup qualifying match against South Korea, the Associated Press reported. The bands were removed in the second half. Green is the color that Mousavi supporters have used throughout their election campaign, and later in protest rallies, AP said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking on state television late yesterday, appealed for unity. He also said he would back a recount in some areas if an examination proves it necessary, Agence France-Presse reported. The clergy-led council overseeing elections said a partial recount may be authorized.

Rial, Stocks

The Iranian rial strengthened to 9,897 per dollar from 9,915 the day before. The currency’s rate is managed by Bank Markazi, the central bank. Iran’s benchmark index, the TEPIX, closed at 9,247 today, a loss of 0.26 percent, according to data published on the Web site of the Tehran Stock Exchange.

Seven people were killed in attacks on university dormitories in Tehran and Shiraz, south of the capital, the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Persian service reported. As many as eight people were killed and 25 injured in the June 15 protest march when security forces fired on protesters, the BBC said, citing state radio.

Mousavi called for a national day of mourning tomorrow, according to his Web site. He called the killings “savage,” adding “the people know who attacked the university dormitories, beat boys and girls, and who killed people in Azadi Square” where the June 15 protest was held.

One person was killed and at least 45 injured in recent protests in Esfahan, 300 miles south of the capital, an employee of Shariati Hospital told Yaari News Web site. Some of the injured were below voting age, meaning that allegations that protesters were all Mousavi supporters weren’t borne out, according to the hospital employee. Yaari also reported that reformists in Esfahan were arrested.

Investigate Attacks

Iranian Interior Minister Sadegh Mahsouli wrote to Tehran’s governor general, Morteza Tamaddon, asking for an investigation into “ill-intentioned” recent attacks on students at the city’s university, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

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

Mohammad Reza Jalaeipour, a Mousavi spokesman for young supporters, was arrested today at Tehran’s airport, while attempting to return to Britain, his wife, Fatemeh Shams, told the Mowj-e Sevvom or Third Wave Web site, which confirmed that reformists applied for permission to hold a rally today to the Interior Ministry.

Mousavi Supporters

Iranian authorities, meanwhile, arrested two prominent Mousavi supporters, AFP said. Hamid Reza Jalaipour and Saeed Laylaz were detained at their homes, the news wire said, citing colleagues and family.

The violence “raises deeper suspicions about the real message of these elections,” said Claire Spencer, head the Chatham House foreign policy consultant’s Middle East department in London. “Repression of public dissent” may eventually “undermine the unity of the state.”

Crude oil for July delivery fell $1.09, or 1.6 percent, to $69.38 a barrel at 10:35 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Iran is the second biggest oil producer in the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries.

The nation’s Guardian Council, made up of 12 clerics and lawyers, may authorize a second vote count in areas where Ahmadinejad’s victory was questioned, state television said.

Opposition Seeks Annulment

The regime is “saying that some votes can be recounted to see if there were irregularities,” Djalili said. “But the opposition isn’t asking for this, they are seeking the annulment of the vote.”

Elections officials said Ahmadinejad won about 63 percent of the vote, to about 34 percent for former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Ahmadinejad said in a cabinet meeting today the poll was a “referendum” in which “25 million people confirmed this way of management in the country.” About 39 million voted in a record turnout of 85 percent.

Mousavi, a former premier who accuses the authorities of vote-rigging, and another candidate, former Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karrubi, rejected a partial recount, the Iranian Labor News Agency said yesterday.

The council ruled out scrapping the election result, Sky News reported, citing state television.

Media Curbs

Iranian authorities ordered restrictions yesterday on the activities of foreign media organizations in the country. Reporters should avoid being present at or covering protests without the permission of the Interior Ministry, the Culture Ministry said in a faxed statement.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry said some foreign media outlets have become the “mouthpiece of rioters” who besmirched the country’s reputation after the election, AFP reported.

The U.S. and several major allies, including Israel, say Iran’s 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.

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, Mohammed ElBaradei, told the BBC for the first time he believed Iran wants the option of developing a nuclear weapon. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the world “does not have a lot of time” to deal with Iran’s program.

President Barack Obama said yesterday at a White House news conference that the U.S. “won’t meddle” in the election, although he has “deep concerns” about the violence.