TEHRAN (AFP) – In a fresh act of defiance, Iranian opposition leaders plan a memorial visit on Thursday to the graves of protesters killed in the violence unleashed over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election.
The cemetery south of Tehran could become a flashpoint as crowds are expected to gather to mark the 40th day since the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman who came to symbolise the anti-Ahmadinejad protest movement.
Media reports said Neda’s mother will visit the cemetery as well as Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have waged a defiant protest campaign since losing to Ahmadinejad in what they brand a rigged election.
A graphic Internet video of Neda bleeding to death on a Tehran street on June 20 was seen around the world and triggered an outcry over the Iranian crackdown on demonstrators.
Mousavi and Karroubi, who are now rarely seen in public, plan to pay their respects at the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery at 4:00 pm (1130 GMT), according to the website of Karroubi’s political party Etemad Melli.
It was still unclear whether the two will also attend a planned mourning ceremony in Tehran which has been banned by the Iranian authorities, as are all opposition gatherings.
Mousavi, a prime minister in the post-revolution years who was Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, has consistently refused to acknowledge his rival’s victory, saying it was a “shameful fraud.”
Hundreds of thousands of people poured on to the streets of Tehran after the election result and in the ensuing violence about 30 people were killed, scores wounded and several thousand arrested, Iranian officials say.
Karroubi’s deputy Rasool Montajebnia suggested that Mousavi, former parliament speaker Karroubi and reformist former president Mohammad Khatami form a joint council to advance the opposition movement.
“If they individually carry out actions, it cannot become a comprehensive movement and address people’s demands,” he was quoted as saying by Karroubi’s reformist newspaper Etemad Melli.
“There is no way but to establish a council of reform… around the axis of Khatami, Karroubi and Mousavi.”
The election tumult has driven deep rifts between the nation’s ruling elite and clerical groups, and Ahmadinejad has since come under fire even from his own hardline supporters over a series of controversial political decisions.
In recent days, the authorities have made gestures towards the opposition, including releasing about 140 protesters on Tuesday and promising to release by Friday more of the some 250 still behind bars.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said it was “imperative” for Iran to release political prisoners.
Iran’s “continuing detention and abuse of political prisoners certainly suggests that the political situation inside of Iran has not yet resolved itself,” she said.
About 20 people accused of rioting are to go on trial from Saturday on a range of charges including attacks on government and military offices, arson, vandalism and contacts with “enemies” including the exiled opposition group the People’s Mujahedeen.
“We have pictures showing them committing these crimes,” Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi said on Wednesday.
Iran’s police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam was quoted by the Mehr news agency on Wednesday as acknowledging possible abuse by the security forces during the post-election troubles.
“Some officers went to extremes in these incidents and they inflicted damage on people while chasing the rioters,” he said. “Nothing should make our forces break the law.”
Ahmadinejad is due to be sworn in next week but is facing harsh criticism from powerful conservatives who have warned him to obey supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or face the consequences.
His standing has been weakened following his choice of a controversial aide Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie as his first vice president and his tardiness in terminating the appointment despite Khamenei’s orders.
Mashaie, who sparked controversy last year for saying Iran was a friend of the Israeli people, stood down but was then appointed Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, a move that has further irked the conservatives.