Third march planned in Iran as reformists are arrested
Iran’s opposition movement has called for a third major public rally in Tehran as pressure builds on the Islamic regime over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fiercely-contested re-election.
Grappling with the biggest wave of public anger since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has lashed out at enemy “plots,” hauling in foreign ambassadors, rounding up scores of reformists and clamping down on the media.
World governments voiced increasing alarm about the situation in Iran, but US President Barack Obama, while raising “deep concerns” over the election, said Washington would not interfere in the affairs of the country.
Supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has accused the regime of vote-rigging, said they have called another rally in Tehran this afternoon, despite a ban on such gatherings.
Reformists also reported that another two prominent academics and journalists had been arrested by the authorities. Hamid Reza Jalaipour, a sociologist and Mousavi campaigner, and Saeed Laylaz, a political and economist analyst, were both arrested at homed.
Iran’s most powerful military force has also warned online media of a crackdown over their coverage of the country’s election crisis.
The Revolutionary Guards, an elite body answering to the supreme leader, says Iranian websites and bloggers must remove any materials that “create tension” or face legal action.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has announced that he may order a partial recount of votes cast in Friday’s presidential election, which returned Ahmadinejad to power amid opposition claims of vote-rigging.
“I am asking the Guardians council and the interior ministry to examine the said issues so there is no doubt left,” Khamenei was quoted by state television as saying.
“If the examination of the problems require recounting of some ballot boxes, it should be definitely done in the presence of the representatives of candidates so that everybody is assured.”
The election has triggered days of opposition protests and deadly unrest and exposed deep divisions in the oil-rich nation of 71 million people, which has been at odd with the West under Ahmadinejad over its nuclear drive.
In the latest demonstrations, supporters of Ahmadinejad and Mousavi staged rival rallies, each calling out hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets of Tehran.
Seven people were reported killed in violence in Tehran on Monday, with footage broadcast on foreign television stations showing dramatic and chaotic scenes of violence, police beating protesters and blazing tyres and motorbikes.
Mr Obama, who has called for dialogue with Iran over its nuclear drive, took a cautious line on Tuesday towards the events.
He said he had “deep concerns” about the election but added: “It is not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling – the US president meddling in Iranian elections.”
Mr Obama said the United States would need to pursue “tough diplomacy” towards Iran whatever the result of its electoral tumult.
“Either way we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighbourhood and has been pursuing nuclear weapons,” Mr Obama told CNBC.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in the strongest remarks so far by a Western leader, he said there was election “fraud.”
Hundreds of protesters also took to the streets of European cities on Tuesday in support of Iran’s defeated presidential challenger, including in Athens, Copenhagen, Hamburg and London.
Iran has responded to international criticism of the vote and the subsequent crackdown on opposition protesters by summoning EU envoys and lashing out at foreign meddling.
“Enemies, particularly the US, Britain, and Israel (are) interfering in Iran’s internal affairs, plotting against the government and giving media support to enemy groups, rioters and social and political hooligans who are trying to fuel chaos in the Islamic Republic,” said the organisers of Tuesday’s pro-regime rally.
The authorities have warned they would nip in the bud any “velvet revolution” and have rounded up scores of people in Tehran and other cities, including prominent reformists close to former president Mohammad Khatami.
A founding member of Iran’s Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi’s human rights group was also arrested on Tuesday, a colleague told AFP.
Iran has reacted to the crisis by clamping down on foreign media, banning it from covering demonstrations.
“Hereby we inform all foreign media representatives to avoid any news coverage which has not been co-ordinated or authorised by this bureau,” a culture ministry official said.
In effect, foreign journalists were being confined to their bureaus and barred from the streets for what a government source said was designed for their own protection.
Some phone, texting and Internet services have also been disrupted, and protesters have been turning to Twitter to spread word of the dramatic events.
A US official said Washington asked Twitter to delay maintenance plans so Iranians could still communicate when other media were banned.
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