- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

CAIRO | A senior Iranian cleric demanded in a nationally broadcast sermon Friday that leaders of election protests be punished harshly, with some “worthy of execution.” The country’s increasingly isolated opposition leader effectively ended his role in the demonstrations, saying he will seek permits for future rallies.

Iran’s ruling clergy has widened its crackdown on the opposition since the bitterly disputed June 12 presidential election, and scattered protests have replaced the initial mass gatherings.

The official Web site of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, his main tool of communicating with his supporters, was hacked Friday, leaving it blank, an aide said.

Mr. Mousavi has said victory was stolen from him through fraud, challenging the proclamation of hard-line incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the winner.

Mr. Mousavi has sent mixed signals to his supporters in recent days, asking them not to break the law while pledging not to drop his challenge of the election.

Hundreds have been detained since the vote, including journalists, academics and university students, and a special court has been set up to put them on trial.

At least 17 people have been killed in the protests, in addition to eight members of the pro-government Basij militia, the government has said.

President Obama, joined at the White House by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hailed the demonstrators in Iran and condemned the violence against them.

“Their bravery in the face of brutality is a testament to their enduring pursuit of justice,” Mr. Obama said. “The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous. In spite of the government’s efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it and we condemn it.”

Mr. Obama scoffed at accusations Thursday of U.S. meddling in Iran by Mr. Ahmadinejad, who called for “repentance” by the U.S. leader. Mr. Obama also said Mr. Mousavi has “shown to have captured the imagination or the spirit of forces within Iran who are interested in opening up.”

In a Friday sermon at Tehran University, a senior cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, called for harsh retribution for dissent.

“Anybody who fights against the Islamic system or the leader of Islamic society, fight him until complete destruction,” he said in the nationally broadcast speech.

The cleric claimed that some involved in the unrest had used firearms.

“Anyone who takes up arms to fight with the people, they are worthy of execution,” he said. “We ask that the judiciary confront the leaders of the protests, leaders of the violations, and those who are supported by the United States and Israel strongly, and without mercy to provide a lesson for all.”

Also Friday, more than 150 demonstrators attacked the Iranian Embassy outside the Swedish capital of Stockholm, throwing stones, breaking windows and injuring one worker, police said. Officers evicted the few demonstrators who climbed in through broken windows and arrested one person, said police spokesman Ulf Hoglund.

Ayatollah Khatami, meanwhile, claimed that the icon of the opposition, slain protester Neda Agha-Soltan, was killed by demonstrators, not the Iranian security forces. Miss Agha-Soltan, 27, was killed by a shot to the chest last week, on the sidelines of a protest.

In London, an Iranian doctor who said he tried to save Miss Agha-Soltan as she bled to death, told the British Broadcasting Corp. she apparently was shot by a member of the Basij militia. Protesters spotted an armed member of the militia on a motorcycle, and stopped and disarmed him, Dr. Arash Hejazi said.

Dozens of friends and relatives of Miss Agha-Soltan managed to pay tribute Friday, arriving at Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in groups of two and three, uttering brief prayers and placing flowers on her grave, witnesses said. Vigils for Miss Agha-Soltan have been held around the world.

Mr. Mousavi, who has said he is becoming increasingly isolated, lost his main link to the world after his official Web site, Kalemeh, came up stripped of any text or pictures. Mr. Mousavi’s associate, Ali Reza Beheshti, said the site had been taken down by unknown hackers.

Late Thursday, state TV reported that the head of Mr. Mousavi’s information committee, Abolfazl Fateh, was banned from leaving for Britain. The report, which could not be verified independently, identified him as a doctoral student in Britain.

At least 11 Mousavi campaign workers and 25 staffers and journalists on his newspaper have been detained.

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