- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

From combined dispatches

Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi urged his supporters Sunday to continue protesting a disputed presidential election, in a direct challenge to the leadership of the Islamic Republic.

Helicopters buzzed through the evening sky over Tehran, and gunfire was heard in the north of the capital, a bastion of support for the reformist former prime minister.

“Protesting against lies and fraud is your right,” Mr. Mousavi said on his Web site. “In your protests, continue to show restraint. I am expecting armed forces to avoid irreversible damage.”

A backstage struggle among Iran’s ruling clerics, meanwhile, burst into the open Sunday when the government said it had arrested the daughter and four other relatives of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Though they were released later Sunday, the arrests appeared to be a clear warning from the hard-line establishment to a cleric who may be aligning himself with the opposition.

Tehran’s streets fell mostly quiet for the first time since the bitterly disputed June 12 presidential election, but cries of “God is great” echoed again from rooftops after dark, a sign of seething anger at a government crackdown that peaked with at least 10 protesters’ deaths Saturday.

The killings drove the official death toll to at least 17 after a week of massive street demonstrations by protesters who say hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole the election.

A leading Iranian human rights group said at least 30 people had been killed before the weekend, and searing images posted online including gruesome video purporting to show the fatal shooting of a teenage girl hinted that the true toll may be higher.

Police and the feared Basij militia swarmed the streets of Tehran to prevent more protests, and the government intensified a crackdown on independent media. They expelled a BBC correspondent, suspended the Dubai-based network Al-Arabiya and detaining at least two local journalists for U.S. magazines.

The disputed election has sparked the most violent unrest since the Islamic Revolution, which ousted the U.S.-backed shah in 1979. The authorities have dismissed the protesters as “terrorists” and rioters, an indication of the government’s determination to crack down hard on demonstrations.

In pro-Mousavi districts of northern Tehran, supporters took to the rooftops after dusk to chant their defiance, an echo of tactics used in the 1979 revolution.

“I heard repeated shootings while people were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [‘God is great’] in Niavaran area,” said a witness, who asked not to be named.

Another witness heard shooting in the Zaferaniyeh district in the north of the capital. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The shooting appeared to be an attempt by the authorities to break up unsanctioned protests. Government restrictions prevent correspondents working for foreign media from attending protests to report.

As authorities fulminated against protesters backing Mr. Mousavi, moderate former President Mohammad Khatami signaled increased opposition among pro-reform clerics to Iran’s conservative leadership.

“Preventing people from expressing their demands through civil ways will have dangerous consequences,” Mr. Khatami, a Mousavi ally, said in a statement quoted by the semi-official Mehr news agency.

His comment, implying criticism of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has backed a ban on protests and defended the outcome of the election, found an echo with Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the most senior dissident cleric.

“Resisting people’s demand is religiously prohibited,” said Ayatollah Montazeri, an architect of the Islamic Revolution who fell out with the present leadership and was under house arrest for more than five years.

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