- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009


TEHRAN — Iran’s government said Sunday it arrested the daughter and four other relatives of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the country’s most powerful men, in a move that exposed a rift among the ruling Islamic clerics over the disputed presidential election.

State media also reported at least 10 more deaths, bringing the official toll for a week of confrontations to at least 17. State television inside Iran said 10 were killed and 100 injured in clashes Saturday between demonstrators contesting the result of the June 12 election and black-clad police wielding truncheons, tear gas and water cannons.

Police and members of the Basij militia took up positions in the afternoon on major streets and squares, including the site of Saturday’s clashes. There was no word on any new clashes Sunday, although after dark many people in Tehran went to their rooftops to shout “Death to the dictator” and Allahu akbar,” a common form of defiance in recent days.

Related article: Violence erupts in defiant Tehran protests

State-run Press TV reported that Rafsanjani’s eldest daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, and four other unidentified family members were arrested late Saturday. On Sunday evening, it said the four others had been released but that Hashemi remained in detention. However, Iran’s ambassador to France Seyed Mehdi Miraboutalebi said on France’s RFI radio that Hashemi had been released.

Last week, state television showed images of Ms. Hashemi, 46, speaking to hundreds of supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. He alleges fraud in the June 12 election, which the government said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won.

After Ms. Hashemi’s appearance, hard-line students gathered outside the Tehran prosecutor’s office and accused her of treason, state radio reported.

The arrests are the strongest sign yet of a serious divide among Iran’s ruling clerics.

Also Sunday, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said on state television that the number of people questioning the election results was large and “this group should be respected and one should not mix this big population’s account with a small group of rioters.”

Mr. Rafsanjani, 75, heads two powerful institutions. One of them, the cleric-run Assembly of Experts, has the power to monitor and remove the supreme leader, the country’s most powerful figure. The second is the Expediency Council, a body that arbitrates disputes between parliament and the unelected Guardian Council, which can block legislation.

The assembly has never publicly reprimanded the unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei since he succeeded Islamic Revolution founder Aytollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. But the current crisis has rattled the once-untouchable stature of the supreme leader with protesters openly defying his orders to leave the streets.

Underscoring how the protesters have become emboldened despite the regime’s repeated and ominous warnings, witnesses said some shouted, “Death to Khamenei!” at Saturday’s demonstrations — another sign of once unthinkable challenges to the virtually limitless authority of the supreme leader.

Mr. Rafsanjani was deeply critical of Mr. Ahmadinejad during the presidential campaign and has the potential to lead an internal challenge to Ayatollah Khamenei.

The arrest of Mr. Rafsanjani’s daughter came as something of a surprise: In his Friday sermon to tens of thousands of worshippers, Ayatollah Khamenei praised Mr. Rafsanjani as one of the architects of the revolution and an effective political figure for many years. Ayatollah Khamenei acknowledged, however, that the two have “many differences of opinion.”

Ayatollah Khamenei has accused foreign media of making “malicious” attempts to portray a schism among the ruling clerics. At Friday’s prayers, he acknowledged that all four presidential candidates “have differences, but all of them belong to the system.”

Iran’s regime continued to impose a blackout on the most serious internal conflict since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But fresh images and allegations of brutality emerged as Iranians at home and abroad sought to shed light on a week of astonishing resistance to hard-lineers Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei.

The New-York based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said scores of injured demonstrators who had sought medical treatment after Saturday’s clashes were arrested by security forces at hospitals in the capital.

It said doctors that had been ordered to report protest-related injuries to the authorities and that some seriously injured protesters had sought refuge at foreign embassies in a bid to evade arrest.

“The arrest of citizens seeking care for wounds suffered at the hands of security forces when they attempted to exercise rights guaranteed under their own constitution and international law is deplorable,” said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesman for the campaign, denouncing the alleged arrests as “a sign of profound disrespect by the state for the well-being of its own people.”

“The government of Iran should be ashamed of itself. Right now, in front of the whole world, it is showing its violent actions,” he said.

Thousands of supporters of Mr. Mousavi, who claims he won the election, squared off Saturday against security forces in a dramatic show of defiance of Ayatollah Khamenei.

Iran has also acknowledged the deaths of seven protesters in clashes on Monday.

State media also reported a suicide bombing at the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini on Saturday killed the attacker and injured five other people.

There was some confusion about the overall death toll. English-language Press TV, which is broadcast only outside the country, put the toll at 13 and labeled those who died “terrorists.” There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.

Amnesty International cautioned that it was “perilously hard” to verify the casualty tolls.

“The climate of fear has cast a shadow over the whole situation,” Amnesty’s chief Iran researcher, Drewery Dyke, told the Associated Press. “In the 10 years I’ve been following this country, I’ve never felt more at sea than I do now. It’s just cut off.”

Iran has imposed strict controls on foreign media covering the unrest, saying correspondents cannot go out into the streets to report.

Reporters Without Borders said 23 journalists were arrested over the past week. The British Broadcasting Corp. said Sunday that its Tehran-based correspondent, Jon Leyne, had been asked to leave the country. The BBC said its office remained open. The U.S.-based newsmagazine Newsweek said its journalist Maziar Bahari was arrested Sunday morning and had not been heard from.

Also Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki held a news conference where he rebuked Britain, France and Germany for raising questions about reports of voting irregularities in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s re-election — a proclaimed victory which has touched off Iran’s most serious internal conflict since the revolution.

Mr. Mottaki accused France of taking “treacherous and unjust approaches.” But he saved his most pointed criticism for Britain, raising a litany of historical grievances and accusing the country of flying intelligence agents into Iran before the election to interfere with the vote. The election, he insisted, was a “very transparent competition.”

That drew an indignant response from British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who “categorically” denied his country was meddling. “This can only damage Iran’s standing in the eyes of the world,” Mr. Miliband said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Iran anew to conduct a complete and transparent recount.

In Washington on Saturday, President Obama urged Iranian authorities to halt “all violent and unjust actions against its own people.” He said the United States “stands by all who seek to exercise” the universal rights to assembly and free speech.

Mr. Obama has offered to open talks with Iran to ease a nearly 30-year diplomatic freeze, but the upheaval could complicate any attempts at outreach.

Republican senators criticized Obama on Sunday for not taking a tougher public stand in support of the protesters, with one saying the president had been “timid and passive.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres applauded Iran’s pro-reform protesters Sunday, saying the young should “raise their voice for freedom” — an explicit message of support from a country that sees itself as most endangered by the hard-line government in Tehran.

Saturday’s unrest came a day after Ayatollah Khamenei sternly warned Mr. Mousavi and his backers to all off demonstrations or risk being held responsible for “bloodshed, violence and rioting.” Delivering a sermon at Friday prayers attended by tens of thousands, Ayatollah Khamenei sided firmly with Mr. Ahmadinejad, calling the result “an absolute victory” that reflected popular will and ordering opposition leaders to end their street protests.

Mr. Mousavi did not directly reply to the ultimatum.

His camp, meanwhile, denied reports that he had proclaimed himself ready for martyrdom on Saturday.

“Mousavi has never said this,” his close ally, Qorban Behzadiannejad, told the AP. Mr. Mousavi’s Web site also said statements that Mousavi was preparing for death were inaccurate.

William J. Kole reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran; Brian Murphy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Sebastian Abbot in Cairo contributed to this report.

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