June 16, 2009
Iran Bans Opposition Rally as Critics Are Detained
By ROBERT F. WORTH and NAZILA FATHI
TEHRAN — The main Iranian opposition on Monday postponed a major rally to challenge the disputed presidential election, as the country’s supreme leader called for calm after days of street protests.
In an unusual broadcast repeated every 15 minutes on state radio, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, was quoted as telling the main opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, to pursue his objections to the election result calmly and legally.
The broadcast said that at a meeting on Sunday night, Mr. Khamenei told Mr. Moussavi, “Naturally, in this election, complaints should be followed through legal channels” adding that Mr. Khamenei told Mr. Moussavi to “follow the issue calmly.”
The radio also said Mr. Khamenei had instructed the powerful Guardian Council to examine opposition complaints of widespread electoral irregularities. Earlier, Mr. Khamenei said the vote, which gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an overwhelming victory, had been fair.
It was not clear whether Mr. Moussavi had been influenced by the call for calm or by fears of renewed official violence against his supporters if the protest went ahead. Reuters said stick-wielding supporters of Mr. Ahmadinejad clashed with marching backers of Mr. Moussavi.
Morteza Tamadon, the governor general of Tehran, said Monday that the planned rally by Mr. Moussavi’s supporters had been declared illegal because the Interior Ministry denied permission to hold it, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Later, a Web site and news reports said Mr. Moussavi had postponed the rally and urged his followers to demonstrate legally and peacefully.
The impact of the postponement remained uncertain with some people on the streets saying they might gather anyhow to protest the re-election of Mr. Ahmadinejad in what his opponents call a stolen election. The rally was supposed to begin at Tehran University and reach Azadi Square several miles away.
On Monday, opposition Web sites reported that security forces raided a dormitory at Tehran University and 15 people were injured. Between 150 and 200 students were arrested overnight, by these accounts, but there was no immediate confirmation of the incident from the authorities. There were also reports of official action against students in the cities of Esfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz.
In Moscow, meanwhile, an official at the Iranian Embassy said that Mr. Ahmadinejad had delayed a visit to Russia that was to have started Monday. He was invited to attend a meeting in Yekaterinburg of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that includes Russia, China and four Central Asian countries. He now plans to travel on Tuesday, the official said.
As concern about the vote spread among Western governments, the European Union’s 27 member states planned to issue a joint call on Iran to clarify the election outcome, Reuters reported. The French government summoned the Iranian ambassador to register concern about the fairness of the vote, and Germany planned to follow suit.
The Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, told reporters in Luxembourg: “There is a need to clarify the situation and to express our concern that a sector of the population are having difficulties in expressing its opinion.”
The developments followed a weekend of growing tension. On Sunday, word spread that more than 100 prominent opposition members had been detained; riots erupted in Tehran and other cities; and the triumphant incumbent hinted that his top challenger risks punishment for questioning the result.
At the same time, two of the three opposition candidates and a clerical group issued fresh statements requesting an annulment of Friday’s ballot, which gave a lopsided victory to Mr. Ahmadinejad, a conservative who has become a polarizing figure at home and abroad. It was unclear how much further Mr. Ahmadinejad’s adversaries were willing or able to go in challenging the result. But supporters of the opposition candidates skirmished with baton-wielding riot police officers on the edges of a government-organized victory rally in Tehran. There were also reports of riots in other Iranian cities, and the protests were echoed by Iranians demonstrating against the election results in Washington and in several European capitals.
Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed the opposition’s allegations of fraud, saying that the victory had given him a bigger mandate than ever. He criticized Mr. Moussavi, the main opposition candidate — who remained at home on Sunday with security forces closely monitoring his movements — in a veiled statement that many here saw as a threat.
“He ran a red light, and he got a traffic ticket,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said of his rival during a news conference at the presidential palace.
Those resisting the election results gained a potentially important new ally on Sunday when a moderate clerical body, the Association of Combatant Clergy, issued a statement posted on reformist Web sites saying that the vote was rigged and calling for it to be annulled. The statement warned that “if this process becomes the norm, the republican aspect of the regime will be damaged and people will lose confidence in the system.”
Mr. Moussavi called for the clergy to join his protest in an open letter late Saturday. It is difficult to say how influential the statement by the association, made up of 27 moderate clerics, will be in Iran’s complex and opaque power structure, but Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the last word on many important matters, is sensitive to clerical opinion.
Iran’s Interior Ministry announced on Saturday that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won about 63 percent of the vote, after a hard-fought election campaign and the rise of a broad reform-oriented opposition that clearly had rattled Iran’s ruling elite. Opposition leaders have catalogued a list of what they call election violations and irregularities in the vote, which most observers had expected to go to a second-round runoff.
The opposition members arrested late Saturday and Sunday were from all the major factions opposed to Mr. Ahmadinejad and included the brother of a former president, Mohammad Khatami, opposition Web sites reported. Some were released after several hours.
Mr. Ahmadinejad called the opposition protesters “unimportant,” comparing them to disappointed soccer fans after a match. He suggested the accusations of fraud were the work of foreign agitators and journalists.
He also seemed to be demanding affirmation of his election’s legitimacy from other nations, saying, “We are now asking the positions of all countries regarding the elections, and assessing their attitude to our people.”
The international reaction that trickled out Sunday was anything but a resounding affirmation, however. In the United States, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said there appeared to be “some real doubt” about the results. But he said the United States would press on with its effort to engage the Iranian government. The official IRNA news agency reported that President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela had congratulated the incumbent. Some Arab governments, notably Syria and Qatar, also welcomed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s re-election.
Clifford J. Levy contributed reporting from Moscow, and Alan Cowell contributed from Paris.