Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Obama's Failed Diplomacy: Tehran Has No Foe In Barry (silence to Ahmadinejad's brutal crackdown)

As rioting escalated Sunday in the wake of Iran's disputed elections, an officer attacked aman near Tehran University.

TEHRAN -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday defended his weekend election victory while security forces cracked down on opposition leaders and demonstrators, who staged a second day of violent protests across the capital and in other Iranian cities.

The standoffs represent the biggest domestic unrest since authorities put down student riots at Tehran University a decade ago.

In some parts of town, black smoke, ash and shattered glass covered the main roads and sidewalks. Along several roads in both uptown and downtown Tehran, many banks -- all government-owned -- had been attacked the previous night, and their glass windows and doors smashed. Public property such as bus stops and street signs were vandalized. At Mohseni Square in north Tehran, three buildings were burned completely.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's defeated challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, said in a statement he was under house arrest and banned from appearing in public. Neither statement has been confirmed by the government. In a post on his Web site, Mr. Mousavi called for a peaceful demonstration on Monday afternoon and asked the police to issue him a permit.

The Obama administration and its European allies openly questioned the results of Iran's presidential vote but also reaffirmed their commitment to pursue direct talks with Tehran over its nuclear program, irrespective of the electoral outcome.

Vice President Joe Biden said early Sunday he had doubts about whether the election was free and fair. But speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," he said the U.S. and other countries need more time to analyze the vote and said the U.S. must accept "for the time being" Tehran's claim that Mr. Ahmadinejad won the contest.

The election result was "a matter for the Iranian authorities to address," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Saturday. "Our priority is that Iran engages with the concerns of the world community, above all on the issue of nuclear proliferation."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier condemned the Iranian government crackdown on opposition protesters as "unacceptable."

Arab Reaction

Across the Arab world and in Israel, reaction was mixed. The results dealt a blow to some Arab officials, who have grown increasingly alarmed by Iran's regional ambitions and hoped Mr. Ahmadinejad's ouster might rein in Tehran.

But others in the region said it could also speed up a key goal: international consensus for tough action against Iran's nuclear program.

"You're not going to waste months and months trying to understand where the new guy is coming from," said one Arab official.

Israeli analysts said that the messy vote validates Israel's perceived threat from Iran and increases Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's leverage with Washington. Mr. Netanyahu argues that Iran, not Israel-Arab peace talks, should be the focus of American Mideast policy.

Mr. Mousavi was considered by Western leaders as easier to negotiate with. He had a more pragmatic, moderate approach than Mr. Ahmadinejad and had said he would open Iran to foreign investments, reform the economy and pursue peaceful relations with the West and the U.S. Mr. Ahmadinejad hails from the ultraconservative camp, favoring populist economic policies and taking a more defiant stance abroad.

Even if security forces are able to contain protests in coming days, the chaotic election fallout still poses a significant challenge for the clerical establishment that rules the Islamic Republic.

Mr. Mousavi's allegations of widespread vote rigging are raising legitimacy questions at home and abroad, and threaten to haunt Mr. Ahmadinejad's next four years in office.

At his news conference Sunday, Mr. Ahmadinejad called his re-election "real and free."

Rajanews, a Web site affiliated with Mr. Ahmadinejad's campaign, carried a number of congratulatory articles and called the election "the victory of honesty over deception."

Iran's Interior Ministry, in a televised news conference late Saturday afternoon, said Mr. Ahmadinejad had won about 63% of the votes cast, to Mr. Mousavi's 34%, according to ministry figures. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed the results.

With few other details released about the results and no independent monitors at polling stations, it's difficult to gauge the allegations of fraud.

Preliminary results started rolling in just hours after polls closed, raising immediate skepticism because results don't legally have to be announced for 12 hours.

Mr. Mousavi said nearly five million voters were told stations had run out of ballots and couldn't vote. He also said thousands of his election-day monitors weren't given credentials by the Interior Ministry and were banned from entering polling stations.

Late Sunday, Mr. Mousavi released a copy of a letter he wrote to the Guardian Council -- an appointed body of clerics who supervise the government -- asking them to nullify the election results. Mohsen Rezaie, a conservative candidate, wrote a letter to the Interior Ministry demanding it release the breakdown of votes in each polling station across the country.

As of Sunday, the Guardian Council had yet to reply and it wasn't clear whether the Interior Ministry would comply with Mr. Rezaie's request.

Mr. Mousavi's supporters say they plan to fight until Mr. Ahmadinejad's government is toppled and new elections are called. The new administration is set to take office Aug. 11.

Mehdi Karroubi, another candidate and cleric reformist, took off his cleric's robe in protest of the results, according to one of his advisers. Removing one's robe was considered a highly political move by clerics during the revolution. In a statement, Mr. Karroubi told the public to keep protesting peacefully.

Battle With Police
At Tehran University Sunday afternoon, following a celebratory rally and news conference by Mr. Ahmadinejad, protesters pelted riot police with stones.

Students were barricaded inside the campus screaming "death to the dictator," as special-forces units on motorcycles threw tear-gas canisters over the fence, and students threw big rocks back at the police. Gunshots were fired into the air.

Students dragged pieces of wood, desks and piles of paper from buildings and set them on fire. Students and protesters outside the campus clashed with antiriot police and paramilitary Basiji forces, trained volunteers in plainclothes who are unleashed during civil protests.

One 29-year-old, interviewed at the scene, rushed from his office nearby to look for his younger sister, a student at Tehran University. As he approached the fence, he said, a Basiji held a canister of pepper spray to his face and sprayed him directly in the eye.

"They have no shame, they have no dignity. How dare they do this to the people?" the man yelled.

"My shoulders are numb, they hit me with the electric baton," said another young man. As students exchanged stories, a group of policemen holding batons ran down the sidewalk toward them.

"They're coming, they're coming," some of the students shouted and ran up the road. A few stood there defiantly until the police caught up to them. They threw one man to the ground and began beating him as he screamed.

Less than a block away from the clashes at Tehran University, Mr. Ahmadinejad held a victory rally and spoke to supporters, who waved Iranian flags.

"We love him because he supports justice and Islam," said Zahra, a 23-year-old woman who had come from downtown Tehran with her husband to cheer the president. She called the protesters "sore losers" and said it was justified for the government to crack down on them.

At his news conference, Mr. Ahmadinejad defended the security services' response, comparing it to police fining rowdy soccer fans for rioting after a match.

"Someone is mad [about the results of the game] and crosses a red line," he said, adding: "I am not happy when people cross a red line and get fined. If only they hadn't crossed it."

Phone Service Cut
Iranian security forces, deployed heavily across the city, have so far appeared to be capable of containing the flare-ups, often using a heavy hand. By late Sunday, there were no reports of fatalities, but sporadic phone and Internet service made passing information difficult.

Mobile-phone service was suspended by authorities on Saturday and Sunday night. SMS texting, a cheap and reliable way of communicating across Iran, was also out.

Meanwhile, the government appeared to intensify a broad crackdown on opposition leaders. Security forces on Saturday arrested up to 100 prominent reformists in a late-night raid on the headquarters of the country's main reformist political party.

The members had called an emergency meeting late at night. Authorities told the detainees they were being arrested for provoking and orchestrating civil disobedience and unrest in the country.

Mohammad Reza Khatami, brother of former President Mohammad Khatami, was also arrested near his house, according to a person familiar with the situation. He was questioned and released a few hours later.

Iranian universities -- in the middle of final exams -- suspended classes for a week as of Saturday, students said, while many shops remained closed.

It was Mother's Day in Iran Sunday, but the flower shops that were open said their sales were far less than what they normally sold. One florist in central Tehran, at a cross section where both sides clashed, said he had sheltered more protesters than catered to customers. He had had only six orders of bouquets and planned to close shop early.(source)

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