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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard threatens protesters

world Updated: Jun 22, 2009 18:45 IST
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Iran’s most powerful security force threatened on Monday to crush any further opposition protests over the disputed presidential election, warning demonstrators to prepare for a “revolutionary confrontation” if they take to the streets again. It was the sternest warning yet from the elite Revolutionary Guard.

An Iranian woman who lives in Tehran said there was a heavy police and security presence in the location where an opposition march was slated to take place on Monday. She asked not to be identified because she was worried about government reprisals.

“There is a massive, massive, massive police presence,” she told the Associated Press in Cairo by telephone. “Their presence was really intimidating.”

The country’s highest electoral authority, the Guardian Council, acknowledged voting irregularities in 50 electoral districts in the June 12 vote, the most serious official admission so far of problems in the election that the opposition has labeled a fraud. But the council insisted the problems do not affect the outcome of the vote. The electoral council said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by a landslide.

The Revolutionary Guard, in a statement posted on its Web site, warned protesters to “be prepared for a resolution and revolutionary confrontation with the Guards, Basij and other security forces and disciplinary forces” if they continue their near-daily rallies.

The Basij, a plainclothes militia under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, have been used to quell streets protests that erupted after the election result was announced. At least 17 protesters have been killed, according to an official Iranian toll.

The Guard statement ordered demonstrators to “end the sabotage and rioting activities” and said their resistance is a “conspiracy” against Iran.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi vowed on Sunday night to keep up the protests, charging the election was a fraud. The 67-year-old Mousavi, who heads a youth-driven movement for reform, claims he was the true winner of the election.

His statement was in defiance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran. In a sermon to tens of thousands on Friday, Khamenei said demonstrators must stop their street protests or face the consequences and he firmly backed Ahmadinejad’s victory.

“The country belongs to you,” Mousavi’s latest statement said. “Protesting lies and fraud is your right.” Mousavi’s Web site called on Monday for supporters to turn on their car lights in the late afternoon as a sign of protest.

Mousavi’s latest statements posted on his Web site also warned supporters of danger ahead, and said he would stand by the protesters “at all times.” But he said he would “never allow anybody’s life to be endangered because of my actions” and called for pursuing fraud claims through an independent board.

The former prime minister, a longtime loyalist of the Islamic government, also called the Basij and military “our brothers” and “protectors of our revolution and regime.” He may be trying to constrain his followers’ demands before they pose a mortal threat to Iran’s system of limited democracy constrained by Shiite clerics, who have ultimate authority.

Mousavi ally and former president Mohammad Khatami said in a statement that “protest in a civil manner and avoiding disturbances in the definite right of the people and all must respect that.”

Official figures say 17 people have died in a week of unrest.

Iran state media reported at least 10 people were killed in the fiercest clashes yet on Saturday and 100 were injured. A graphic video that appears to show a young woman dying within minutes after she was shot during Saturday’s demonstrations has become the iconic image seen by millions around the world on video-sharing sites such as YouTube.

Police said Monday that 457 people were arrested on Saturday alone, but did not say how many have been arrested throughout the week of turmoil.

Severe restrictions on reporters have made it almost impossible to independently verify any reports on demonstrations, clashes and casualties. Iran has ordered reporters for foreign news agencies to stay in their offices, barring them from any reporting on the streets.

The country’s highest electoral authority, the Guardian Council, agreed last week to investigate some opposition complaints of problems in the voting.

It said on Monday it found irregularities in 50 voting districts, but that this has no effect on election outcome. Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei was quoted on the state TV Web site as saying that its probe showed more votes were cast in these constituencies than there were registered voters. But this “has no effect on the result of the elections,” he said.

Mousavi has demanded that the election result be annulled and a new vote held.

Khatami said “taking complaints to bodies that are required to protect people’s rights, but are themselves subject to criticism, is not a solution” -- effectively accusing the Council of collusion in vote fraud.

The government has intensified a crackdown on independent media _ expelling a BBC correspondent, suspending the Dubai-based network Al-Arabiya and detaining at least two local journalists for US magazines.

English-language state television said an exile group known as the People’s Mujahedeen had a hand in the street violence and broadcast what it said were confessions of British-controlled agents in an indication that the government was ready to crack down even harder.

The Foreign Ministry lashed out at foreign media and Western governments, with ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi accusing them of “a racial mentality that Iranians belong to the Third World.”

“Meddling by Western powers and international media is unacceptable,” he said at a news conference shown on state TV, taking particular aim at French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“How can a Western president, like the French president, ask for nullification of Iranian election results?” Qashqavi said. “I regret such comments.”