Riot police out in force in Tehran
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) — As thousands of riot police and militia lined Tehran’s streets Sunday, the public rift among Iranian leaders appeared to be widening.
A supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi carries a toy gun to scare away forces in Tehran on Saturday.
The country’s foreign minister disputed allegations of ballot irregularities in Iran’s disputed presidential election, and the parliamentary speaker implied the nation’s election authorities had sided with one candidate.
Amateur video showed large crowds marching down a major Tehran thoroughfare shouting, “Don’t be afraid, we’re together!” and “Death to dictator!” The person who shot the video said it was taken Sunday, but CNN could not immediately verify that the protest had taken place.
Eyewitnesses reported a protest also took place at Southern Tehran’s Azad University, where final exams were postponed after about 200 students refused to take them.
Thousands of riot police and members of the Basij militia lined the streets of the city, according to eyewitnesses. Many shops were closed, and shopkeepers who were open said they planned to close early Sunday. However, no tanks were seen on the city’s streets. Traffic was light. Watch amateur video of a volunteer paramilitary forces headquarters burning in Tehran »
Police have not been given permission to use firearms in confronting protesters, Tehran Police Chief Azizollah Rajabpour told Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency. Police have not used firearms on the public, he said.
Allegations to the contrary are false and “spread by those who want to muddy the waters,” the agency reported.
Protesters dispute the results of the June 12 presidential elections.
News coverage in Iran has been limited by government restrictions on international journalists. On Sunday, the BBC said Iran had expelled Jon Leyne, the British network’s permanent correspondent in Tehran. And Al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based Arab satellite network, said its Tehran bureau was ordered closed.
However, the protests appeared mostly peaceful, in stark contrast to Saturday’s bloodshed. Hospital sources said 19 people were killed Saturday in clashes between protesters and police. Unconfirmed reports put the death toll as high as 150.
Government-funded Press TV confirmed 13 fatalities Saturday, saying the deaths resulted from police clashes with “terrorist groups” in Tehran. But the station did not say whether all the deaths took place Saturday or spanned the length of the weeklong protests.
Press TV also reported Sunday that five relatives of former President Ali Akhar Hashemi Rafsanjani were arrested for “alleged involvement in post-election incidents … taking part in unauthorized protests in central Tehran … they are accused of provoking riots.”
All but Faezeh Rafsanjani, the former president’s daughter, were later released, Press TV said. The woman’s brother said she was arrested while taking part in a protest.
The older Rafsanjani is chairman of the Assembly of Experts, which is responsible for appointing or removing the supreme leader. He is a supporter of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi, while Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remained staunch in his defense of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Meanwhile prominent figures, many who were part of the Iranian Revolution, issued conflicting statements, a sign that Iran’s leadership was far from unified.
The foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said Sunday an investigation into claims of fraud in the election will be announced by week’s end.
But speaking to foreign diplomats in Tehran, he called the possibility of irregularities almost nonexistent.
“The possibility of organized and comprehensive disruption and irregularities in this election is almost close to zero given the composition of the people who are holding the election,” Mottaki said.
On the other hand, Iran’s influential parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani implicated the same people — the Guardian Council — of siding with one candidate.
“Although the Guardian Council is made up of religious individuals, I wish certain members would not side with a certain presidential candidate,” Larijani told the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) on Saturday, without naming whom he meant.
The comments were reported on Press TV and on another news Web site, Khabaronline, Sunday.
Followers of Moussavi have alleged that the council, which approves all candidates running for office and verifies election results, declared Ahmadinejad the winner of the elections despite indications of ballot fraud.
Larijani’s statement was in direct contrast to that of Khamenei.
Khamenei, in a sermon Friday, declared the elections a “definitive victory” for Ahmadinejad and rejected charges of vote rigging.
“A majority of people are of an opinion separate” from that of a minority, Larijani said.
While Larijani and Ahmadinejad have had a tense relationship in the past, Larijani is seen as being aligned with Khamenei. For him to directly contradict the leader’s statement amounts to another example of the growing disagreement among ruling conservatives.
Meanwhile, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, in an open letter posted on his Web site, said, “the presence of the people is one of the achievements of the revolution and must be respected.”
“Sensational and insulting propaganda against the people, who have always acted independently, and insinuating that their healthy movement is directed by foreigners is itself a sign of the implementation of faulty policies which will widen the gap between the people and the government,” Khatami wrote.
As they have done all week, a stream of videos posted on social networking Web sites depicted tense scenes and chaos Saturday — sounds of gunshots, images of helicopters whirring overhead and wounded men and women being carried away. iReport.com: Share images from Iran
One graphic video that captured the death of a young woman became the iconic symbol of a brutal day. But like most of the information coming out of Tehran, it is impossible to verify her name — Neda — or the circumstances of her apparent death.
The protests Saturday were held in open defiance of warnings issued by Khamenei and the country’s Security Council. They had said that rally organizers, specifically Moussavi, would be held accountable if the protests led to bloodshed. See images of the clashes Saturday »
Moussavi seemed to be encouraging demonstrators to continue their protests with messages posted on his page on Facebook, the social networking Web site that has proven to be a key source of information in the absence of international media coverage. “Today you are the media,” said one message. “It is your duty to report and keep the hope alive.” Watch how social-networking sites spread the word on Iranian news »
Moussavi was not heard from on Sunday and his Web site lacked any messages from him.
In a story posted on the Press TV Web site, Iran’s deputy police commander said 400 police personnel had been wounded since the opposition rallies began.
Demonstrators also gathered in major cities in France, the United States and Germany to condemn the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
In Washington, President Obama on Saturday urged the Iranian government to stop the violence against its citizens.
“The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching,” Obama said in a statement. “We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people.”
On Saturday night, the Iranian state-run news agency IRINN said an attacker had been killed earlier outside Tehran at the entrance to the mausoleum that holds the body of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The agency said the man “carrying the bomb” was killed, and there were no other casualties.
Press TV reported that the bomber was the sole fatality and that three other people were wounded at the shrine to Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Revolution that swept the Shah of Iran from power in 1979. Khomeini is regarded as the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Meanwhile, the Iranian government said Saturday it is ready to randomly recount up to 10 percent of “ballot boxes.”
The Guardian Council said it had received more than 600 complaints of irregularities from the three candidates.