- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tehran residents Friday night shouted “God is great” from their buildings, following the instructions of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mosavi and using a slogan popular during the 1979 revolution that created the Islamic Republic now threatened by mass demonstrations.

Defying warnings from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that leaders of the demonstrations will be held responsible for any bloodshed, hundreds of thousands of Iranians were expected to take to the streets again Saturday to protest an election tally that gave a purported landslide to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Web site of Mr. Mousavi - many Iranians believe he defeated Mr. Ahmadinejad on June 12 - gave no instructions to supporters about Saturday’s demonstration, which would be the fifth major protest since the election.

Instead, it urged supporters to continue to shout “God is great” from their buildings Friday night. As the sun set over Tehran, they did so, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Mousavi’s supporters on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook have reported that rallies scheduled for Saturday are still on, despite a stern warning from Ayatollah Khamenei that the protests must end.

The Shi’ite cleric, in his first public appearance since the unrest began, told government supporters at Friday prayers in Tehran that opposition leaders “will be held accountable for all the violence, bloodshed and rioting” if they do not halt the rallies, according to the AP.

Shaul Bakhash, an Iran specialist at George Mason University and author of “The Reign of the Ayatollahs” about the 1979 revolution, said Mr. Mousavi should reaffirm his call to his supporters to come out and demonstrate on Saturday.

“If the crowds are large enough a day after Khamenei’s speech, it’s very significant,” Mr. Bakhash said. “It means that the people are not afraid, and it’s a slap against the leader.”

Security forces can put down 30,000 people but not hundreds of thousands, he added.

“If the demonstration takes place and it’s large, the balance of power will have shifted” away from the supreme leader and his security establishment toward pro-democracy forces, Mr. Bakhash said.

Ayatollah Khamenei contended in his speech that the presidential election had not been rigged and was an expression of the Iranian people’s will.

“Some of our enemies in different parts of the world intended to depict this absolute victory, this definitive victory, as a doubtful victory,” the AP quoted him as saying at the prayer service at Tehran University attended by tens of thousands of government supporters. “It is your victory. They cannot manipulate it.”

The “they” referred toin the speech were foreign powers, whom he singled out to include the United States and the United Kingdom.

The speech offered no concession to the Mousavi camp or to two other presidential candidates who have been calling for a new election.

The AP quoted a Mousavi supporter’s e-mail as saying, “We all feel a little angry, worried and disappointed after the speech.”

“We are waiting for Mousavi’s reaction. He is our hope to protect our votes,” added the Tehran resident, who wrote on the condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation.

On Friday, President Obama said on CBS News that the Iranian regime must “recognize that the whole world is watching” its response to the wave of demonstrations.

“How they approach and deal with people who are, through peaceful means, trying to be heard will, I think, send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is - and is not.”

European leaders have used harsher words toward Iran’s leaders in recent days. In the United Kingdom, the Foreign Office summoned Iran’s charge d’affairs to protest the treatment of demonstrators and object to the supreme leader claiming the British were stirring up protesters.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 405-1 to pass a resolution condemning “ongoing violence” against demonstrators in Iran and the “suppression of independent electronic communications through interference with the Internet and cell phones.”

In a move to counteract Iranian censors, Google and Facebook have introduced new translation programs aimed at making communications in Persian easier for Internet users in Iran.

Barbara Slavin contributed to this report.

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