TEHRAN (AFP) – Thousands of supporters of Iran’s defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi held a new protest rally in Tehran on Thursday, keeping up the pressure on the Islamic regime over the disputed vote, witnesses told AFP.
Chanting “Peace be upon (Prophet) Mohammed and his family”, the protesters marched in southern Tehran and were expected to be joined by Mousavi, the witnesses said.
The rally was also to mourn demonstrators slain in clashes during six days of protests — banned by the authorities. Foreign journalists are also barred from attending the rallies or other events without express authority.
State radio has reported seven deaths in the clashes since the June 12 election returned incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.
Electoral watchdog the Guardians Council said it had received a total of 646 complaints of irregularities in last Friday’s election from the three defeated candidates.
It said it had invited the trio to set out their grievances on Saturday, with a decision on Sunday about any possible recount.
Facing their biggest crisis since the 1979 revolution, Iran’s Islamic rulers have gone on the offensive, arresting protesters and prominent reformists, tightening their grip on the media and lashing out at “meddling” by foreign foes, including the United States.
Despite the crackdown, Mousavi had called on his supporters to take to the streets again on Thursday, dressed in black in a sign of mourning.
Tens of thousands of people had joined what was billed as a “silent” protest rally on Wednesday, wearing green wrist- and head-bands, the colour of Mousavi’s campaign, and carrying banners accusing Ahmadinejad of having “stolen” their votes in the poll, witnesses said.
State television broadcast brief footage of that rally, which was staged despite an official ban on all unauthorised gatherings.
The Etemad Melli (National Confidence) party of defeated reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi has applied for permission to hold a a new protest rally on Saturday.
Besides the seven reported deaths, many more have been wounded in the worst violence for at least a decade, with protests reported in Tehran and other major cities.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini said he would consider a partial recount after Ahmadinejad’s defeated challengers lodged formal complaints of vote-rigging.
But Mousavi is insisting that the result of what he has described as a “shameful fraud” be annulled and a new vote called.
World governments have raised concern about the situation in Iran, particularly the violence and widespread arrests, with some European leaders publicly speaking of fraud and irregularities.
Warning they would crush any “velvet revolution,” the authorities have rounded up scores of people, including prominent reformists and even former government officials.
In the latest sweep, Iran on Wednesday arrested Ebrahim Yazdi and Mohammad Tavasoli, veteran revolutionaries and leaders of Iran’s Liberation Movement, the Etemad Melli newspaper reported.
In a sign of cracks emerging within the Iranian elite, a number of influential clerics have spoken out about the election results and the subsequent crackdowns.
The top clerical body, the Assembly of Experts, hailed the mass turnout in the election but stayed silent on the disputed results.
“We congratulate the excited, epic-making and alert presence of 85 percent of the revolutionary people in the June 12 election, which was a display of the Islamic republic’s greatness and dignity throughout the world,” it said in a statement read out on state television.
The Basij militia, at the forefront of action against protesters, called for defeated candidates to dissociate themselves from “the rioters” and called on all sides to “avoid provocative action”.
In a rare move, Khamenei is due to lead the main weekly Muslim prayers in Tehran on Friday, in the presence of the Basij.
Mousavi and reformist former president Mohammad Khatami, who was succeeded by Ahmadinejad in 2005, issued a joint letter on Wednesday urging the Iranian authorities to release those arrested and halt the violence.
“We ask you to take all the necessary measures to put an end to today’s worrying situation, to stop the violent actions against people and to free those arrested,” said the letter published on Mousavi’s website.
Iran has fought back against the international outcry, on Wednesday summoning the Swiss ambassador, who represents US interests in Iran, to protest at what it called “interfering remarks” by US officials, state television said.
US President Barack Obama, who has called for dialogue with Iran after three decades of severed ties, has voiced “deep concerns” about the aftermath of the election but said it would not be productive to be seen as “meddling.”
In new measures against the media, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards told websites to delete material that “creates tensions” or face legal action, and issued a new warning to the foreign media, accusing some outlets of becoming the “mouthpiece of the rioters’ movement.”
Pictures, videos and updates from the streets of Iran continue to pour in to social-networking and image-sharing websites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube despite Iranian efforts to cut off mobile phones and the Internet.
Sometimes jumpy footage broadcast on the Internet from amateur videos has shown chaotic and sometimes brutal scenes of violence, with police beating protesters and one image purportedly showing a protester shot dead during massive street protests on Monday.
The combative Ahmadinejad — who set Iran on a collision course with the West during his first four-year term — has remained defiant, saying his victory showed faith in his government of “honesty and service to the people.”