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Aresu Eqbali, Farhad Pouladi15 Jun 2009 17:31
Defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi appeared in public on Monday for the first time since an election that has divided the nation, joining hundreds of thousands of supporters who defied a ban to stage a mass rally in Tehran.
“God willing, we will take back our rights,” Mousavi shouted from the roof of a car amid a vast sea of Iranians, young and old, who packed into central Tehran to protest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election.
Iran, battling one of its worst crises since the Islamic revolution three decades ago, faced a growing international backlash over the validity of the election and the subsequent crackdown on opposition protests.
“The genuine will of the Iranian people should be fully respected,” United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon said.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered a probe into allegations of vote-rigging after Ahmadinejad was returned power in a landslide, denting Western hopes of a change in domestic and foreign policy of the oil-rich Shi’ite-dominated nation.
State television said Khamenei—the all-powerful spiritual leader of the Islamic republic—had told Mousavi that he had called on the Guardians Council supervisory body “to precisely examine” his complaints.
Mousavi (67) lodged a formal appeal on Sunday for the cancellation of the results of what he charges was a rigged “charade” that has stoked the worst unrest in Iran for a decade.
“The vote of the people is more important than Mousavi or any other person,” he told the crowds on Monday.
Demonstrators, some wearing the green of Mousavi’s campaign colour, swarmed into central Tehran as riot police looked on. One policeman said between 1,5-million and two million people had turned out, despite the Interior Ministry ordering a ban on what it said was an “illegal” gathering.
Former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, a key Mousavi backer who was succeeded by Ahmadinejad in 2005, also wants the results of the vote cancelled and a new election held, his brother said.
A spokesperson for the 12-member Guardians Council said it would announce its decision in 10 days.
‘An awful lot of doubt’
European governments complained about the tactics used against protestors and added their voices to US doubt over the election outcome, with the EU calling on Tehran to launch a probe into the results.
“The regime must address the serious questions which have been asked about the conduct of the Iranian elections,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
Monday’s demonstration comes a day after the combative Ahmadinejad himself addressed a vast victory rally in Tehran to defend the results, saying the people of Iran had triumphed against the “world arrogance” (the West).
The authorities have warned that they would crush any “velvet revolution” in Iran and police said on Sunday they had rounded up 170 people over the protests, including a number of reformist leaders.
Germany—Iran’s most important Western trading partner—joined the Islamic republic’s arch-foes, the United States and Israel, in questioning the results of the vote.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the action of the security forces as “completely unacceptable.”
US Vice-President Joe Biden said on Sunday there was “an awful lot of doubt” about the vote, but nevertheless reiterated Washington’s willingness to engage in talks after three decades of severed ties.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, whose country Ahmadinejad has said should be wiped off the map, said during a visit to France that his return to power was “bad news”.
The Iranian authorities have also cracked down on local and foreign media, with Mousavi’s own newspaper reportedly suspended and international outlets reporting the arrest and harassment of their journalists.
Telephone and internet services have also been disrupted.
On Saturday, Tehran witnessed widespread clashes between baton-wielding police and stone-throwing protesters, who set bins and vehicles on fire in violence on a scale not seen since 1999 when student demonstrations led to a week of deadly nationwide unrest.
Sporadic violence has continued since.
Ahmadinejad’s first term in office had already set Iran on a collision course with the international community over its nuclear drive, his anti-Israeli tirades and restrictions on society.
Amid the turmoil in Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei urged Tehran to take up the US offer of dialogue over its disputed nuclear programme, which the West fears could be a cover for ambitions to build atomic weapons.
Iranian analysts have warned that the disputed nature of Ahmadinejad’s victory could weaken Iran from within and isolate it further from the outside world.
“The perception of many Iranians that their vote was not taken into consideration will weigh heavily on the legitimacy of future elections,” said Tehran-based analyst Sayeed Laylaz.—AFP
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