Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iran: A Week Of Revolts

June 23 (Bloomberg) -- Iranian police massing in force broke up a demonstration over the disputed presidential election just hours after the Revolutionary Guards said they would crush further protest.

Police used tear gas and fired shots into the air to quell yesterday’s rally in central Tehran, the Associated Press reported. Witnesses said helicopters hovered overhead as about 200 protesters gathered in Haft-e-Tir Square before they were dispersed, AP said.

Security forces were deployed in the capital to prevent further demonstrations after hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in more than a week of rallies. At least 17 people have been killed in the worst internal violence in the oil-producing nation of 66 million since the shah was overthrown in 1979.

Former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main challenger in the disputed June 12 election won by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, urged his supporters to continue peaceful protests. Another of the three defeated presidential candidates, former Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karrubi, yesterday called for a ceremony June 25 in memory of those killed in the protests.

The Revolutionary Guards, who answer directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and act as a counterweight to the Iranian army, warned the protesters to halt their activity.

‘Saboteurs Must Stop’

“The saboteurs must stop their actions” or face “the decisive and revolutionary action of the children of the nation in the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij and other security and military forces, to put an end to the chaos,” the state-run Mehr news agency cited the Revolutionary Guards as saying in a statement.

Also yesterday, the clerical Guardian Council, the top election body, acknowledged that the number of ballots cast in 50 districts surpassed the number of eligible voters in those areas, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

A council spokesman, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, said the discrepancies, in areas with a total electorate of about 3 million, may have sprung from voters being allowed to cast their ballot in cities or provinces other than those where they live.

The council has rejected a call from Mousavi for a new vote, offering only a partial recount. Opponents of Ahmadinejad’s victory say the ballot was rigged.

The protests and the divisions within the regime mark an unprecedented challenge to the authority of Khamenei, the successor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the revolution.

Nations Warned

The Guards warned the international community including the U.S., U.K. and Israel to stop stirring unrest in the country. Iran has accused foreign nations of provoking the protests, a charge denied by Western diplomats.

The U.K.’s Foreign Office said yesterday it is evacuating families of diplomats and other Iran-based officials. The Italian Foreign Ministry discouraged that nation’s citizens from non-essential travel to Iran, while Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the police response “totally unacceptable.”

The 125,000-strong Guards, established to protect the Islamic Revolution, have their own ground, air and sea forces. Club-wielding members of the Basij volunteer militia, which is linked to the Guards, have played a role in suppressing the protests.

Without the Guards’ intervention, the protests won’t stop, Yossi Mekelberg, director of international relations at Regent’s College, London, said in an interview.

“This shows that it is very serious and can destabilize the regime,” he said.

Labeled as Terrorists

The U.S. designated the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force a terrorist organization in October 2007, accusing the paramilitary group of supporting attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. The focus of the Quds Force has been assistance to Islamic militant groups in other countries.

The Guards’ intervention came as splits within Iran’s ruling elite deepened after police arrested relatives of an ex- president and after Parliament’s current speaker said that most Iranians questioned Ahmadinejad’s electoral victory.

Security forces temporarily detained five relatives of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, believed to be rallying support within the clerical establishment for Mousavi, state media said yesterday.

Rafsanjani, who heads the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body with the power to appoint or dismiss the supreme leader, may try to dislodge Khamenei, said Anoush Ehteshami, a professor of international relations at Durham University in the U.K.

Speaker Ali Larijani, who served as Iran’s nuclear negotiator until 2007, criticized the top election body for siding with Ahmadinejad and said most Iranians don’t accept the results.

‘Eat Its Own’

“There is some serious dissatisfaction within the ranks,” said Ilan Berman, an analyst with the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington. “Anytime a regime begins to eat its own, it signals significant transformation.”

On June 19, Khamenei reaffirmed Ahmadinejad’s electoral victory. The president was re-elected for a second four-year term with 63 percent of the vote to Mousavi’s 34 percent, according to the official tally.

Iran’s rial weakened 0.4 percent to 9,929.3 to the dollar yesterday, compared with 9,894.6 at the close of trading on June 19. The currency’s rate is managed by Bank Markazi, the central bank.

Iran’s governor at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Mohammad Ali Khatibi, said the protests haven’t affected the country’s oil industry or crude exports. Iran is OPEC’s second-biggest producer. (source)

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