- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Iran’s ruling clerics closed ranks around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday, hailing him as a “champion” amid signs that he may have begun purging his government of anyone perceived as an opposition sympathizer.

A sense of resignation mingled with indignation settled over supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Iran’s embattled opposition leader, whose insistence that massive fraud robbed him of victory in the June 12 presidential election touched off two weeks of street clashes between protesters and police.

Iran’s highest electoral authority Monday proclaimed the election outcome valid - paving the way for Mr. Ahmadinejad to be sworn in this month - and the incumbent leader sent a stern message to those in his administration who survived his first term: He won’t tolerate dissent in his second.

Three senior oil ministry officials with loose ties to Mr. Mousavi were fired, the independent news agency Fararu reported. All three were prominent members of former President Mohammad Khatami’s government and reportedly were allies of another former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Both former presidents were considered to be backers of Mr. Mousavi’s bid for the presidency.

Mr. Ahmadinejad basked in the praise of ranking clerics and supporters who celebrated his re-election in a landslide questioned by Western analysts who have called his 2-to-1 margin of victory suspicious and improbable.

“This election was actually a referendum. The Iranian nation were the victors and the enemies, despite their … plots of a soft toppling of the system, failed and couldn’t reach their aims,” the state IRNA news agency quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying, according to a Reuters report.

The semiofficial news agency Fars News quoted Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri as saying in a congratulatory message that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been “a champion, always on the scene.” Another top cleric, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, said the election was “the cleanest ever” in the history of the Islamic republic.

In validating the election results, the 12-member Guardian Council said it found only “slight irregularities” after randomly selecting and recounting 10 percent of the nearly 40 million ballots cast.

Mousavi supporters, whose massive street protests brought on an unrelenting crackdown by security forces wielding batons, tear gas and guns, expressed disgust and dismay.

“I am not convinced,” said a 35-year-old schoolteacher who gave her name only as Sahar for fear of government recrimination. “Everybody I knew voted for Mousavi. The council was not a fair judge.”

Abolfazl Fateh, head of Mr. Mousavi’s information committee, told a pro-Mousavi Web site Tuesday that widespread postelection detentions and investigations were “unethical and illegal.”

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said leaders at next week’s Group of Eight summit in Italy would discuss the possibility of imposing new sanctions on Iran because of the ferocity of its crackdown on opposition demonstrators.

But Sweden, which takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union on Wednesday, said the 27-nation bloc was taking a wait-and-see approach.

Although the European Union and the United States have expressed concern over the regime’s repression, both want to leave room for resuming dialogue with Iran about its nuclear program.

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