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Ahmadinejad: Clashes over election ínot importantí


Protesters set fires and smashed store windows Sunday in a second day of violence as groups challenging President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadís re-election tried to keep pressure on authorities. Anti-riot police lashed back and the regime blocked Internet sites used to rally the pro-reform campaign. Ahmadinejad dismissed the unrest ó the worst in a decade in Tehran ó as "not important." He said Fridayís vote was "real and free" and insisted the results showing his landslide victory were fair and legitimate. Along Tehranís Vali Asr street ó where activists supporting rival candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi held a huge pre-election rally last week ó tens of thousands marched in support of Ahmadinejad, waving Iranian flags and shouting his name...

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Ahmadinejad: Clashes over election ínot importantí

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June 14, 2009

TEHRAN, Iran ó Protesters set fires and smashed store windows Sunday in a second day of violence as groups challenging President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadís re-election tried to keep pressure on authorities. Anti-riot police lashed back and the regime blocked Internet sites used to rally the pro-reform campaign.

Ahmadinejad dismissed the unrest ó the worst in a decade in Tehran ó as "not important." He said Fridayís vote was "real and free" and insisted the results showing his landslide victory were fair and legitimate. Along Tehranís Vali Asr street ó where activists supporting rival candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi held a huge pre-election rally last week ó tens of thousands marched in support of Ahmadinejad, waving Iranian flags and shouting his name.

Mousavi released his first statement since two days of violent protests began, calling on authorities to cancel the election. He said that is the only way to restore public trust. Mousavi, who has accused authorities of election fraud, urged his supporters to continue their "civil and lawful" opposition to the results and advised police to stop violence against protesters. He has claimed he was the true winner of the election.

The violence spilling from the disputed results has pushed Iranís Islamic establishment to respond with sweeping measures that include deploying anti-riot squads around the capital and cutting mobile phone messaging and Internet sites used by the Mousaviís campaign.

Thereís little chance that the youth-driven movement could immediately threaten the pillars of power in Iran ó the ruling clerics and the vast network of military and intelligence forces at their command ó but it raises the possibility that a sustained and growing backlash could complicate Iranís policies at a pivotal time.

President Barack Obama has offered to open dialogue after a nearly 30-year diplomatic freeze. Iran also is under growing pressure to make concessions on its nuclear program or face possible more international sanctions.

Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday he has doubts about whether the election was free and fair, as Ahmadinejad claims. He said the U.S. and other countries need more time to analyze the results before making a better judgment about the vote.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said his country is "very worried" about the situation in Iran, criticizing the Iranian authoritiesí "somewhat brutal reaction" to the election protests.

So far, Mousavi has issued mixed signals through his Web site before it was shut down. He urged for calm but also said he is the legitimate winner of Fridayís election and called on supporters to reject a government of "lies and dictatorship." He has not been seen in public since a news conference shortly after polls closed.

In a second day of clashes, scores of young people shouted "Death to the dictator!" and broke the windows of city buses on several streets in central Tehran. They have burned banks, trash bins and piles of tires used as flaming barricades to block police.

Riot police beat some of the protesters with batons while dozens of others holding shields and motorcycles stood guard nearby. Shops, government offices and businesses closed early as tension mounted.

In a news conference, Ahmadinejad called the level of violence "not important from my point of view" and likened it to the intensity after a soccer match.

"Some believed they would win, and then they got angry," he said. "It has no legal credibility. It is like the passions after a football match. ... The margin between my votes and the others is too much and no one can question it."

About a mile away from Ahmadinejadís news conference, young Iranians set trash bins, banks and tires on fire as riot police beat them back with batons.

"In Iran, the election was a real and free one," said Ahmadinejad. "The election will improve the nationís power and its future," he told a packed room of Iranian and foreign media.

Ahmadinejad also accused foreign media of launching a "psychological war" against the country.

Iranian authorities have asked some foreign journalists ó in Iran to cover the elections ó to prepare to leave. Nabil Khatib, executive news editor for Dubai-based news network Al Arabiya, said the stationís correspondent in Tehran was given a verbal order Sunday from Iranian authorities that the office will be closed for one week.

No reason was given for the order, but the station was warned several times Saturday that they need to be careful in reporting "chaos" accurately.

Iran restored cell phone service that had been down in the capital since Saturday. But Iranians could not send text messages from their phones, and the government increased its Internet filtering in an apparent attempt to undercut liberal voices. Social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter were also not working.

The restrictions were likely intended to prevent Mousaviís supporters from organizing large-scale protests. But smaller groups assembled around the city. About 300 Mousavi supporters gathered outside Sharif University, chanting "Where are our votes?"

About a dozen riot police used batons to disperse about 50 Mousavi supporters standing outside his campaign quarters.

On Saturday, Mousavi, a 67-year-old former prime minister, released a Web message saying he would not "surrender to this manipulation." Authorities responded with targeted detentions, apparently designed to rattle the leadership of Mousaviís "green" movement ó the trademark color of his campaign.

The detentions include the brother of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and two top organizers of Iranís largest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front: the partyís secretary-general and the head of Mousaviís youth cyber campaign. Mohammad Reza Khatami and the two party activists were released Sunday.

Several others linked to Mousaviís campaign remained in custody, but the full extent of the arrests were not known.

Tehran deputy prosecutor, Mahmoud Slarkia, told the semi-official ISNA news agency that fewer than 10 people were arrested on the charge of "disturbing public opinion" through their "false reports" on Web sites after the election. He did not mention any names.

Iranís deputy police chief, Ahmad Reza Radan, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that about 170 people have been arrested for their involvement in Saturdayís protests. He said 10 of those arrested were "main planners" and 50 were "rioters." The others were arrested for being at the site of the clashes, he said. Some of the detained were active in Mousaviís campaign headquarters or had relations with foreign media, he said.

"Police will not allow protesters to disturb the peace and calmness of the people under the influence of foreign media," Radan said on state television, which showed footage of the protests for the first time Sunday.

Mousaviís newspaper, Kalemeh Sabz, or the Green Word, did not appear on newsstands Sunday. An editor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the paper never left the printing house because authorities were upset with Mousaviís statements.

The paperís Web site reported that more than 10 million votes in Fridayís election were missing national identification numbers similar to U.S. Social Security numbers, which make the votes "untraceable." It did not say how it knew that information.

"Donít worry about freedom in Iran," Ahmadinejad said at the news conference after a question about the disputed election. "Newspapers come and go and reappear. Donít worry about it."

Iranís supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, closed the door for possible compromise. He could have used his near-limitless powers to intervene in the election dispute. But, in a message on state TV on Saturday, he urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad, calling the result a "divine assessment."






:: Article nr. 55123 sent on 14-jun-2009 21:44 ECT

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Link: www.bostonherald.com/news/international/middle_east/view.bg?articleid=1178837



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