TEHRAN, (Reuters) – Iran’s top authority accused the pro-reform opposition on Friday of betraying the legacy of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as hundreds of thousands rallied to mark the 21th anniversary of the revolutionary leader’s death.
Addressing the same memorial prayer rally, hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned that the government would not tolerate renewed protests on next week’s first anniversary of his disputed re-election vote.
Despite scorching heat, men dressed in black or in a white shroud that symbolised the Shi’ite Moslem cult of martyrdom and women wearing head-to-toe black veil gathered at a mausoleum south of Tehran to pay homage to Khomeini.
In a clear reference to opposition charges of vote rigging in last year’s presidential election, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Khomeini had “boycotted those who were not in line with the pillars of the 1979 Islamic revolution”. “You cannot be a follower of Imam Khomeini if you openly support the disgraceful events of the past months … and back those who created such events,” Khamenei said to chants of “Death to Hypocrites” — a term used for the opposition leaders.
Official results of the June 12 vote giving the president a landslide victory triggered nationwide street protests by supporters of defeated candidate Mirhossein Mousavi, a moderate who says the vote was rigged.
Those demonstrations were put down violently, with at least 30 people killed and thousands arrested. But Mousavi and his reformist allies have refused to back down and sporadic protests have continued, often using official anniversaries.
Supporters of Mousavi plan to revive street rallies on the election anniversary, prompting Ahmadinejad to warn that “those who confront the regime will be banished by our nation”.
The authorities have stepped up pressure on the opposition by arresting more moderates in recent days in an effort to deter efforts to organise fresh anti-government protests.
The aftermath of the vote, which plunged Iran into its worst internal crisis since the revolution, exposed deepening divisions in its ruling elite.
Hardline authorities have repeatedly accused the opposition leaders of links to “foreign enemies”. The United States and its European allies have condemned Iran over its handling of post-election protests, supporting Iran’s reform movement. “It is unacceptable to say that those who were backed by America and the Zionist regime (Israel) are followers of Imam,” Khamenei told the crowd, which responded by chanting “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”.
Opposition leaders have repeatedly criticised the ruling elite for ignoring the people as a key element of government. But Khamenei said the establishment respected Khomeini’s vision of “freedom” and “Islamic” democracy.
The supreme leader, who has the ultimate say in Iran’s political, religious and military affairs, vowed to pursue the guidelines set by his predecessor such as the primacy of Islam and “antagonising the enemy”.
Mousavi, Iran’s prime minister under Khomeini during 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, insists that his own campaign themes of reinforcing civil rights were inspired by Khomeini’s thought. “Those who dream that our people are turning away from Islam and the revolution are, as before, in for big disappointment,” Khamenei said. “People will be judged based on their current acts not their past positions.”
In previous years, officials from all political factions gathered at the mausoleum to renew allegiance to Khomeini. But moderate politicians such as former president Mohammad Khatami were absent on Friday.
The speech of Khomeini’s grandson, Hassan, was interrupted by a group of hardliners, who chanted Shi’ite mourners’ customary religious chants and also “Death to Hypocrites”. “… Let me talk … Our people hate this small crowd (who interrupted his speech),” said Hassan Khomeini, a backer of opposition leader Mousavi.