TEHRAN — A hardline Iranian cleric on Friday called for the execution of "rioters" in the latest sign of the authorities' determination to stamp out opposition to the June 12 presidential election.
(EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to report, film or take pictures in Tehran.)
Iran's top legislative body, the Guardian Council, said it had found no major violations in the election, which it called the "healthiest" vote since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The council already had rejected a call for the annulment of the vote by moderate former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has led mass protests since he was declared a distant second in the election behind incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"I want the judiciary to . . . punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson," Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Tehran University.
Iranian state television said on Thursday that rioters killed eight Basij militiamen during the protests. State media previously said 20 people were killed in the marches.
Iranian authorities have accused Mousavi of being responsible for the bloodshed, while the moderate former prime minister says the government is to blame.
Khatami, a member of the Assembly of Experts, said the judiciary should charge the leading "rioters" as being "mohareb" or one who wages war against God.
"They should be punished ruthlessly and savagely," he said. Under Iran's Islamic law, punishment for people convicted as mohareb is execution.
Mousavi's supporters plan to release thousands of balloons on Friday with the message: "Neda you will always remain in our hearts," in memory of the young woman killed last week who has become an icon of the demonstrations.
The authorities have used a combination of warnings, arrests and the threat of police action to drive large demonstrations off Tehran's street since Saturday with small gatherings dispersed with tear gas and baton charges.
Seventy professors were detained after meeting Mousavi and his campaign manager was among many arrested. The professors were released on Thursday.
The 12-man Guardian Council's statement leaves little scope for more legal challenges, short of an attack on the position of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has expressed strong support for Ahmadinejad.
"The Guardian Council has almost finished reviewing defeated candidates' election complaints ... the reviews showed that the election was the healthiest since the revolution ... There were no major violations in the election," said Abbasali Kadkhodai, spokesman of the council.
Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a Mousavi ally, chairs the Assembly of Experts which has the constitutional power to depose Khamenei. The assembly has never tried to do so and Rasfanjani is seen as unlikely take such a radical step.
Group of Eight powers meeting in Trieste will issue a statement calling on Iran to settle the crisis soon through democratic dialogue and peaceful means.
"We deplore post-electoral violence which led to the loss of lives of Iranian civilians and urge Iran to respect fundamental human rights including freedom of expression and ensured by the international treaties it has ratified," the final draft said.
President Barrack Obama has said he was "appalled and outraged" by the security crackdown in the world's fifth largest oil exporter.
The condemnation by Obama, who had been trying to improve ties with Iran before the election, prompted Ahmadinejad to accuse him of behaving like his predecessor and say there was not much point in talking to Washington unless Obama apologized.
Mousavi said he was determined to keep challenging the election results despite pressure to stop.
"A major rigging has happened," his website reported him as saying. "I am prepared to prove that those behind the rigging are responsible for the bloodshed."
He called on his supporters to continue "legal" protests and said restrictions on the opposition could lead to more violence.
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