Iran sees second day of clashes as anger rises

Outraged supporters of the moderate candidate, Hossein Mousavian, who claimed his defeat in the Iranian election at the hands of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was manipulated, took to the streets of Tehran again on Monday raising the prospect of more violent clashes.

With temperatures at 35°C, the situation in the Iranian capital threatened to reach boiling point as special forces in riot gear chased protesters through side streets near Fatemi Square. In a sign of the anger among Mousavi’s supporters, they chanted “the president is committing a crime and the supreme leader is supporting him”, highly inflammatory language in a regime where the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is considered irreproachable.

Crowds also gathered outside Mousavi’s headquarters but there was no sign of Ahmadinejad’s chief political rival, who is rumoured to be under house arrest. Supporters waved their fists and chanted anti-Ahmadinejad slogans.

Sunday night saw violent clashes after Ahmadinejad was confirmed as the winner of the presidential election on Friday, barely an hour after the polls had closed.

Protesters set fire to rubbish bins and tyres, creating pillars of black smoke among the apartment blocks and office buildings in central Tehran.
An empty bus was engulfed in flames on a side road.

Police fought back with clubs, including mobile squads on motorcycles swinging truncheons, as protesters hurled stones and bottles at officers, shouting “Mousavi, give us our votes back” and “the election was full of lies”.

More than 100 reformists, including Mohammad Reza Khatami, the brother of former president Mohammad Khatami, were arrested on Sunday night, according to leading reformist Mohammad Ali Abtahi. He told Reuters they were members of Iran’s leading reformist party, Mosharekat.

A judiciary spokesperson denied they had been arrested but said they were summoned and “warned not to increase tension” before being released.

Mousavi, who had been widely expected to beat the controversial incumbent if there was a high turnout—or at least do well enough to trigger a second round—insisted he was the victor and appealed against the result to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“I personally strongly protest the many obvious violations and I’m warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade,” said Mousavi, a former prime minister. “The result will jeopardise the pillars of the Islamic republic and establish tyranny.”

But Khamenei replied that the election had been conducted fairly. He ordered the three defeated candidates and their supporters to avoid “provocative” behaviour. “All Iranians must support and help the elected president,” he warned.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said she hoped the election result reflected the “genuine will and desire” of Iranian citizens.

Ahmadinejad’s crushing and contested victory, by 63% to 34%, is a grave setback for hopes of a solution to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and for détente with the US now that Barack Obama is seeking dialogue with Tehran. Israel reacted immediately by demanding intensified efforts to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

A second four-year term for Ahmadinejad torpedoes prospects for the freedoms and economic competence Mousavi had promised Iran’s 72-million people, creating a vibrant, youth-driven “green” reformist movement which had been peaceful until the clashes.

“The regime is making a decision to shape the direction of Iran for the next decade,” Saeed Laylaz, a political analyst, said. “I’m sure they didn’t even count the votes. I do not accept this result. It is false. It should be the opposite. If Ahmadinejad is president again, Iran will be more isolated and more aggressive. But he is the choice of the regime.”

Laylaz had warned before the result that a second presidential term for Ahmadinejad could create a “Tiananmen-type” situation in Iran. Ominously, as three weeks of campaigning drew to a close last Wednesday, an official of the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps warned that any attempt at a popular “revolution” would be crushed.

Overt signs of repression included the failure of phone lines for hours after the polls closed and the blocking of the English and Persian-language websites of the BBC and Voice of America—which are regularly attacked by the Iranian authorities as “imperialist”. SMSs also failed.

Foreign diplomats scrambled to make sense of the reversal. Fraud had been expected but not on the apparently massive scale required to produce an outcome almost diametrically opposite to what had been predicted by the Mousavi camp and independent analysts.

Sunday’s excitement in the opposition camp gave way to fury. “It’s shameful, they have rigged the polls,” said technician Majidreza Askari. “What would you expect from the interior ministry of a liar president? Ahmadinejad lies in front of the whole nation on state-run TV.”

Samaneh Younes, a nurse demonstrating in Vanak Square, Tehran, said: “How is it possible that Mousavi didn’t even get good results in his own province? How is it possible that there were no blank votes? Why didn’t the government provide enough ballot papers in big cities where Mousavi had a huge number of supporters?” -

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