CAIRO, (AP) – Iran’s top electoral body said Tuesday it found “no major fraud” and will not annul the results of the June 12 election, closing the door to a do-over sought by angry opposition supporters alleging systematic vote-rigging.
Since the vote, Iranian government officials have repeatedly suggested that a revote is extremely unlikely. However, Tuesday’s announcement by Iran’s top electoral body, the Guardian Council, was the clearest yet in ruling out a do-over.
The announcement on Iran’s state-run English language Press TV is another sign the regime is determined to crush post-election unrest, the worst since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, rather than seek compromise with the protesters.
Government warnings to the protesters have intensified in recent days, with Iran’s supreme leader ordering them off the streets and the feared Revolutionary Guards threatening a tough crackdown. At least 17 people have been killed in near-daily demonstrations, including at least one that drew hundreds of thousands of people.
In a boost for the embattled regime, Russia said Tuesday that it respects the declared election result, which the Iranian government described as a landslide victory for hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The U.S. and many European countries have refrained from challenging the election outcome directly, but have issued increasingly stern warnings against continuing violence meted out to demonstrators.
Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has charged the election was a fraud and insists he is the true winner.
The Guardian Council found “no major fraud or breach in the election,” a spokesman, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, was quoted by Press TV as saying. “Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place.”
On Monday, the Guardian Council said — in a rare acknowledgment — that there had been voting irregularities in 50 districts, including local vote counts that exceeded the number of eligible voters. However, the council said the discrepancies were not widespread enough to affect the result.
Ahmadinejad won crucial backing from Russia on Tuesday, with the Foreign Ministry in Moscow saying it respects the declared election result. In a statement on its Web site, the ministry said that disputes about the vote “should be settled in strict compliance with Iran’s Constitution and law” and are “exclusively an internal matter.”
Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has longtime political and economic ties with Iran where it is helping build a nuclear power plan at Bushehr. In his only trip abroad since the vote, Ahmadinejad traveled to Russia last week for a conference where he was seen prominently shaking hands with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Many Western democracies, including the U.S., have criticized the way in which the Iranian government has dealt with the widespread protests, and renewed Iranian government threats of a crackdown have heightened concerns.
In New York, U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon urged an “immediate stop to the arrests, threats and use of force,” U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said Monday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Iran to recount the votes, but stopped short of alleging electoral fraud. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been outspoken in his criticism of Iran’s response to the demonstrations, but said doors must remain open to continue talks on the country’s nuclear program.
In contrast, China, Venezuela and some other developing countries tended to be supportive of the Iranian government, whose nuclear activities, alleged involvement in terrorism and influence in regional conflicts have alarmed the West for years.
After a huge opposition rally a week ago, protests have become smaller, but demonstrators have been more willing to confront Iranian troops.
On Monday, Tehran riot police fired tear gas and live bullets to break up about 200 protesters paying tribute to those killed in the protests, including a young women, Neda Agha Soltan, whose apparent shooting death was captured on video and circulated worldwide. Witnesses said helicopters hovered overhead as riot police fired live rounds and lobbed tear gas to break up the gathering. Security forces ordered people to keep walking and prevented even small groups from gathering.
Caspian Makan, a 37-year-old photojournalist in Tehran who identified himself as Soltan’s boyfriend, said she had not been deterred by the risk of protesting. “She only ever said that she wanted one thing, she wanted democracy and freedom for the people of Iran,” he told an Associated Press reporter during a telephone call from Tehran.
Severe restrictions on reporters have made it almost impossible to independently verify reports on demonstrations, clashes and casualties. Iran has ordered reporters for international news agencies to stay in their offices, barring them from reporting on the streets.
A number of journalists have been detained since the protests began, though there have been conflicting accounts. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders put the figure of reporters detained at 34.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 13 were still in custody, including Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari.
The Iranian government must release all journalists and halt “unreasonable and arbitrary measures that are restricting the flow of information,” the committee said. “Detaining journalists for reporting news and commentary indicates the government has something to hide.”