Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday demanded an end to street protests that have shaken the country since a disputed presidential election a week ago and said any bloodshed would be their leaders’ fault. He defended Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the rightful winner of the presidential vote and denied any possibility that it had been rigged, as Ahmadinejad’s opponents have asserted.
“If there is any bloodshed, leaders of the protests will be held directly responsible,” Khamenei declared in his first address to the nation since the upheaval began.
“The result of the election comes from the ballot box, not from the street,” the white-bearded cleric told huge crowds thronging Tehran University and surrounding streets for Friday prayers. “Today the Iranian nation needs calm.”
He said any election complaints should be raised through legal channels. “I will not succumb to illegal innovation,” he said, in an apparent reference to the street protests, which have few precedents in the Islamic Republic’s 30-year history. Mir Hussein Mousavi has called for annulment of the election result, which showed Ahmadinejad the winner with nearly 63 per cent of the vote to 34 per cent for his closest challenger.
Iran’s top legislative body, the Guardian Council, is considering complaints by the three losing candidates, but has said only that it will recount some disputed ballot boxes.
The supreme leader, Iran’s ultimate authority, in theory stands above the factional fray, but Khamenei acknowledged that his views on foreign and domestic policy were closer to those of Ahmadinejad than to those of the hardline president’s foes.
Many European countries and international human rights organisations have criticised the election and its aftermath, but US President Barack Obama’s administration has muted its comments to keep the door ajar for possible dialogue.
People chanting slogans and holding posters of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, the father of the 1979 Islamic revolution, packed streets outside the university.
Khamenei’s speech followed six days of protests by Mousavi supporters.
On Thursday, tens of thousands of black-clad marchers bore candles to mourn those killed in earlier rallies.