Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iran’s Opposition Stages Day of Mourning for Protest Victims

Supporters of the leading challenger to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad embarked on a day of mourning for those killed in protests over the nation’s disputed election. A rally in Tehran began at about 5 p.m. local time, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a witness.

The killings were “savage,” defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, 67, said on his Web site. “The people know who attacked the university dormitories, beat boys and girls, and who killed people in Azadi Square,” where opposition supporters rallied three days ago.

At least 15 people have died in protests over the result of the June 12 election, seven in attacks on university dormitories in Tehran and Shiraz, south of the capital, and eight in the Azadi Square march on June 15 when security forces fired on protesters, the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Persian service reported.

Demonstrations, triggered by opposition accusations of vote-rigging, are entering a sixth day as the authorities struggle to contain popular anger at the election result. The June 15 rally, held in defiance of a government ban, was the largest anti-government demonstration since the Islamic revolution ousted the shah in 1979. Tens of thousands of Mousavi’s supporters marched again yesterday in Tehran.

Mousavi and former president Mohammad Khatami sent a letter to the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi- Shahrudi, late yesterday calling on him to free the hundreds of people arrested since the election.

Sympathy for Victims’ Families

Grand Ayatollah Yosuf Sanei, an elder dating from the rule of Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, expressed sympathy for the families of the victims. In a letter published on the Iranian Labor News Agency, he said he hoped concern about election “irregularities” would be addressed by the administration. There were 646 election irregularities, Agence France-Presse cited the three defeated candidates as saying.

The protests are “a true outcry” Hooman Majd, the author of “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran,” said in a column in the Financial Times today. They are supported by “some clerics, and even the old guard of the Islamic leadership, such as Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who protest that the one democratic aspect of the political system, the people’s voice, is in danger of being snuffed out.”

Rafsanjani heads the Assembly of Experts, a group of clerics that can choose or dismiss Iran’s supreme leader. Faezeh Hashemi, Rafsanjani’s daughter, has addressed hundreds of Mousavi supporters.

The Iranian rial strengthened to 9,888 per dollar from 9,897 yesterday on a day when the dollar was weaker against other major currencies. The currency’s rate is managed by Bank Markazi, the central bank. Iran’s benchmark index, the TEPIX, closed at 9,247 yesterday, a loss of 0.26 percent, according to data published on the Web site of the Tehran Stock Exchange.

Election Turmoil

The election turmoil is pitting the Islamic republic’s ruling clergy against young Iranians and more educated voters who want social freedom and better ties with the West.

Ahmadinejad’s opponents accuse the 52-year-old of wrecking the economy, which suffers from 10.5 percent unemployment and almost 24 percent inflation, and driving Iran into international isolation over the country’s nuclear program.

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, Mohammed ElBaradei, told the BBC for the first time yesterday he believed Iran wanted the option of an atomic bomb.

Mousavi, while backing Iran’s “right” to nuclear technology, has said the president brought shame on the country with a management style “based on adventurism, instability, unlawfulness and radicalism.” Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust a “myth,” while Mousavi has condemned violence against Jews.

Vote Count

According to election officials, Ahmadinejad won about 63 percent of the June 12 vote, to about 34 percent for Mousavi. The remainder was divided between two other candidates.

Mehdi Karrubi, 71, another defeated candidate, has called for people to wear black tomorrow in mourning for those killed as Friday prayers are led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to seal his appeal for unity.

Khamenei’s prayers will be held in the presence of the Basij, the voluntary militia of the Revolutionary Guards, the group said in a statement on state-run Mehr news agency. The militia warned the defeated candidates to “explicitly dissociate themselves from the rioters.”

The Basij, famed for walking over minefields during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War to open up routes of attack for the army, are estimated to be hundreds of thousands strong.

In recent days, Mousavi has criticized the role of “plain- clothes” police in attacks on students.

Cabinet Meeting

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

A major political party controlled by clerics has requested the Interior Ministry’s permission to hold another rally June 20. Khatami is planning to attend that march and Mousavi will address the crowd, the state-run Mehr news agency reported.

Khamenei appealed for unity June 16 following a meeting with representatives of candidates in the presidential vote. He has also said he would back a recount in some areas if an examination proves it necessary. The clergy-led Guardian Council overseeing elections said a partial recount may be authorized.

The council invited the defeated candidates to a meeting from June 20 onward to consider candidates’ complaints with more care, council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadhodaei said on state television today.

Partial Recount

Mousavi, who accuses the authorities of vote fraud, and Karrubi, a former Parliament speaker, rejected a partial recount, the Iranian Labor News Agency said.

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.”

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.

Crude oil for July delivery climbed as much as 70 cents, or 1 percent, to $71.73 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange as investors bought commodities. Iran is the second biggest oil producer in the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries.