"Unrest in Iran Deepens as Leading Critics Are Detained
"Unrest in Iran Deepens as Leading Critics Are Detained
TEHRAN — Violence and acrimony over Iran’s disputed election intensified on Sunday, with word spreading that more than 100 prominent opposition members had been detained, riots erupting in Tehran and other cities, and the triumphant incumbent hinting that his top challenger risks punishment for questioning the result.
Two of the three opposition candidates and a clerical group issued fresh statements requesting an annulment of the election on Friday, which gave a lopsided victory to the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative who has become a polarizing figure at home and abroad. They did so despite a decree from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that the outcome was fair.
It was unclear how far 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 Mir Hussein 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.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s electoral rivals appeared to be holding firm in their protest against the vote despite the arrests and a mass crackdown on street protesters by the police and Basij militia members, many of them wielding batons, whips and chains. Nationwide protest movements in 1999 and 2003 trailed off after a week or so.
In a statement, Mr. Moussavi said he had asked the Guardian Council of Iran, which must certify the election for it to be legal, to cancel the vote. He also said he was being monitored by the authorities and was unable to join his followers. His campaign headquarters has been shuttered, he said.
Another candidate, the reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi, echoed Mr. Moussavi’s demand for the election to be canceled. “I am announcing again that the elections should not be allowed and the results have no legitimacy or social standing,” Mr. Karroubi said in a statement posted on opposition Web sites. “Therefore, I do not consider Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of the republic.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke Sunday at Valiasr Square in central Tehran, surrounded by thousands of chanting, flag-waving voters in what was clearly intended to be a show of popular support for his victory. But the smell of tear gas and smoke drifted over the cheering crowds. Only a few blocks away, groups of protesters chanted their own slogans against the government, and some of them, bloodied and screaming, could be seen running from police officers armed with clubs.
As night fell, protests resumed in nearby Vanak Square, where the rallies began Saturday, and chants of “Bye-bye, dictator!” and “God is great!” could be heard from rooftops in several areas of the capital.
“No one led these people in the streets,” said Bashu, a 28-year-old opposition supporter who, like many others, was afraid to give his full name. “This is the least we can do; we cannot stay at home and watch them celebrate a fake election.”
He opened his shirt to show long, red welts on his chest where, he said, a Basij militia member had whipped him with a chain. Next to him, a female friend dressed in a black Islamic chador stood with a bloody gash on her forehead that she said had been inflicted by the police.
“We just hope the people of the world hear our voice,” Bashu said. “We haven’t heard from Moussavi; we hear he is under arrest.”
Opposition supporters said they were organizing a major rally to take place Monday in Tehran, though it was not clear whether the authorities would permit it.
The pro-Ahmadinejad rally on Sunday afternoon took place in an atmosphere of extraordinary tension, with riot police officers forming barricades around Valiasr Square and beating people visibly identified with the opposition before they could enter. But inside the barriers, a number of opposition supporters approached a reporter, saying, “They stole the election” or “It is all lies” before scurrying back into the crowd.
The rally also rendered starkly visible the bitter class and cultural divisions that lie behind the disputed election. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters, many of them poor and devout, view the opposition as arrogant and irreligious.
“They are traitors,” said Soraya Parvaie, 20, a student. “Our people are still awake, because of our revolution 30 years ago, and we will defend this revolution with our last blood.”
Another young woman nearby, apparently an opposition supporter, disagreed. “It wasn’t an election, he was just named,” she said. Instantly, two older women in traditional Islamic dress who were standing nearby began cursing and shoving the first woman, who ran away.
“She would like to take off her head scarf, that’s why she says such things,” said one of the women who had chased her away. “She benefits from the country’s wealth, look at her.”
Not far away, in the surging crowd in Valiasr Square, other Ahmadinejad supporters, many carrying banners and flags, angrily defended their president as an incorruptible champion of the poor. Most said they could not believe the election had been stolen.
“He is the only one since the revolution who wants to work for the common people,” said Amir Mallikian, a 28-year-old civil engineer. “He cares about those who are weak in our society. He is not afraid of any foreign power, not even of powers inside the country.”