- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2009

TEHRAN | Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi appeared Monday for the first time since his purported defeat in Iran’s presidential elections and told thousands of supporters that their votes had not been in vain.

Agence France Press said Mr. Mousavi, who has challenged the announced landslide victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a “charade,” stood on a car roof and addressed crowds through a bullhorn.

“The vote of the people is more important than Mousavi or any other person,” he told supporters massed in Revolution Square, named for the 1978-79 protests that overthrew Iran’s monarchy.

The demonstration, which took place without permission from the authorities, went on despite an announcement earlier Monday by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that he had ordered an investigation into alleged voting irregularities in Friday’s vote.

Ayatollah Khamenei, a Shi’ite Muslim cleric who ostensibly outranks all other Iranian officials, had earlier endorsed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election as “a divine blessing.”

But the results announced by the government - 63 percent for the incumbent and 32 percent for Mr. Mousavi - have been challenged by Mousavi supporters and two other opposition candidates. Angry demonstrators have taken to the streets of Tehran and other major cities since Friday night in the worst civil unrest in Iran in at least a decade.

Iranian state media reported Monday that those taking part in unauthorized demonstrations would be arrested and charged with “incitement.” About 170 opposition politicians and protest organizers have reportedly been arrested in the past two days.

However, an individual close to Mohsen Rezaie, a conservative candidate who also ran against Mr. Ahmadinejad, said Mr. Mousavi had met Sunday night with Ayatollah Khamenei and persuaded him to order a body known as the Guardian Council to look into widespread allegations of electoral fraud.

The council has 12 members - six of them clerics appointed directly by the Supreme Leader. The others are lawyers approved by parliament after being recommended by the head of the judiciary, himself chosen by the Supreme Leader.

“Mr. Mousavi had a very good meeting with the Supreme Leader last night and pointed out to him that he should follow the case through the right channels,” said the individual, who spoke on condition that he not be named. “The Guardian Council has 10 days to investigate the opposition claims but the first thing we need is documents from 54,000 polling stations around the country and the second thing we need are the national identification numbers of the 39 million people who voted.”

Some Iranians expressed skepticism about the call for an investigation, saying it was just a ploy to try to get demonstrators off the streets.

An Iranian political analyst, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, warned of a blacklash if the protests continue. Mr. Mousavi, the analyst said, “doesn’t have the ability or willingness to go all the way.”

Rioting has been ongoing in Tehran for the past two days between opposition supporters and riot police. Demonstrators have set fires at key intersections and thrown rocks at law enforcement units. Ordinary Tehranis have taken to the streets using passive resistance tactics to express their anger with the alleged vote-rigging by honking their horns and shouting slogans such as “The silence of every Muslim is a sin by the Koran” and “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) in an echo of the 1979 revolution.

Iranian officials announced a landslide win for Ahmadinejad on Friday shortly after the polls closed. Under election rules here, no one is supposed to claim victory until the Guardian Council certifies the results.

Besides opposition candidates, a major clerical group has requested an annullment of the balloting and a former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has reportedly been meeting with senior clerics in Qum, Iran’s theological center, to seek a reversal of the vote.

But the regime’s enforcement powers remain potent.

A student activist told The Washington Times that the elite Revolutionary Guards were “deploying around [Revolution] square and getting ready to crack down hard.” He asked not to be named for his own protection.

The last time Iran faced widespread demonstrations was in July 1999 when then President Mohammad Khatami stood by as riot police cracked down and left a generation of reformists feeling betrayed. The current demonstrations are larger in scope but similarly lack organizing structure.

“These crowds are spontaneous, sporadic, have no structure to their action and it’s going nowhere,” the political analyst said.

Still, angry protesters say they want Mr. Mousavi to remain steadfast.

“I think my vote has been insulted. We expect him to stand until the end,” said Mehdi, a 40-year-old engineer.

Fahar, 21, a student, said she will attend protests for as long as they take place, despite her fears.

“I hope they act in a civilised way and don’t attack us,” she told AFP, referring to the police and Iran’s volunteer Basij militia.

*Barbara Slavin contributed from Washington. Iason Athanasiadis reported from Tehran with a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

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