Tags: iran | election | protests

Obama Concerned, Will Not Meddle in Iran Election

Tuesday, 16 Jun 2009 01:31 PM

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TEHRAN — Supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his defeated challenger staged rival rallies on Tuesday as the nation grappled with its worst crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

As the authorities imposed a clampdown on foreign media, the country's election watchdog said it was ready to order a vote recount in the election that returned Ahmadinejad to power amid opposition claims of vote-rigging.

State television showed crowds of flag-waving demonstrators packing a square in Tehran at a regime-organized rally, and similar scenes from a march by supporters of defeated challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Iran is facing an international backlash over the election and the subsequent crackdown against the opposition, with seven people so far reported killed in unrest in Tehran.

President Barack Obama, who has called for dialogue with Iran over its contested nuclear drive, voiced deep concerns over the election but said he would not meddle in the affairs of the Islamic republic.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy bluntly alleged that the election involved fraud in the strongest remarks so far by a Western leader.

Iran has responded to criticism by summoning EU envoys.

Tuesday's rallies were the latest show of strength by the rival camps after the election, which exposed deep divisions in the oil-rich nation of 71 million people, mostly Shiite Muslims.

State television described the regime-backed demonstration as a "unifying rally," showing images of vast crowds of demonstrators waving flags and banners.

Mousavi had urged his supporters not to turn up for their own rally in a bid to avoid clashes, but a correspondent with Iran's English language Press TV said it had turned into a "massive" demonstration.

However, AFP could not reach the site of the demonstrations, as Iran has banned foreign media organizations from covering such events.

"Hereby we inform all foreign media representatives to avoid any news coverage which has not been coordinated or authorised by this bureau," a culture ministry official said.

In effect, foreign journalists were being confined to their bureaus and barred from reporting on the streets, in what a government source said was a measure designed for their own protection.

The authorities have warned they would nip any "velvet revolution" in the bud and have rounded up scores of people in Tehran and other cities, including prominent reformist leaders close to former president Mohammad Khatami.

A founding member of Iran's Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi's human rights group was also arrested on Tuesday, a colleague told AFP.

Some telephone, texting and Internet services have also been disrupted, and protestors have been turning to Twitter to spread word about the dramatic events in their currently.

Iran's election watchdog said it was ready to do a recount of Friday's vote, after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered a probe into the vote-rigging allegations Mousavi raised. He had declared himself the victor on polling day.

"If the Guardians Council reaches the conclusion that such offences as buying votes or using fake identity cards have been committed . . . it will order a recount," council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai told the official news agency IRNA.

Top dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a one-time heir to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who was later sidelined, called on the youth of the "oppressed nation" to pursue peaceful rallies.

And in a rare criticism, Parliament speaker Ali Larijani, a conservative rival to Ahmadinejad, blamed the interior minister for attacks on civilians and university students.

State radio said violence flared on Monday with seven people killed and more wounded in street battles outside a Basij Islamic militia base after a pro-Mousavi demonstration, as protestors set tires and motorcycles ablaze.

On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad himself was in Russia, a key ally that is helping Iran build a nuclear power plant, for a security summit. Moscow has described the election as an "internal" affair.

In his latest salvo at the West, Ahmadinejad said the "age of empires" is over but made no mention of the situation back home.

Obama, who has turned his back on the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush toward the Islamic republic, took a cautious line on Tuesday.

"I have said before that I have deep concerns about the election. I think that the world has deep concerns about the election," Obama said.

But he added: "It is not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations to be seen as meddling — the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called for the will of the Iranian people to be "fully respected."

European governments also complained about the tactics used against protesters and added their voices to US doubt over the election outcome, with the EU calling on Tehran to launch a probe.

Britain said the world should not take sides, but Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged the authorities to refrain from violence.

"The elections are a matter for the Iranian people, but if there are serious questions that are now being asked about the conduct of the elections, they have got to be answered," he said.

Iran summoned the British and Czech envoys to Tehran in protest about European reaction to the vote.

"Neither the European Union nor other countries are in a position to have the right to make rude and interfering remarks against Iran, especially about our glorious election," the Czech envoy was told.

© 2Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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