Election Results Spark Massive Iran Protests

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A massive protest Monday against the presidential election results in Iran turned violent. A huge crowd of supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi filled a major square in Tehran. News reports say one person was killed and several wounded in firing by a pro-government militia. Official results said Mousavi lost last Friday's election to the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Today, in Iran's capital there were scenes of protest and some violence. A pro-government militia reportedly killed one person and wounded several others.

SIEGEL: Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi defied a ban on demonstrations and poured into the heart of Tehran. According to results issued by Iran's Interior Ministry, Mousavi lost last Friday's presidential election in a landslide to the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mousavi and other candidates claim the results were falsified.

NPR's Mike Shuster was at today's rally and he joins us now from Tehran, and Mike, first, just describe this rally for us.

MIKE SHUSTER: It was truly extraordinary, Robert, especially given the fact that the government had banned it. It had told Mousavi and his supporters that they must not march - that it was illegal and seditious and that there was much talk that the security forces would be out in force and that they would shoot at the crowd. But people just poured into the street, this main east-west avenue moving toward Freedom Square, Revolution Square in Western Tehran, by the tens of thousands hour after hour.

I mean, I was there for three hours and the crowd never let up. This was a march so people just kept pouring through. Easily a hundred thousand people gathered in the square to hear Mousavi talk. It was the first time actually that Mousavi had been seen in public since Friday as well.

SIEGEL: But is it true that he had actually tried to cancel this rally because of fears of violence?

SHUSTER: That's right. He called for it yesterday on his Web site and then he was warned by the government that he should call it off, because it was illegal and seditious. And then the word went out that the police may fire on the crowd, and yet over a hundred thousand people defied that and came out into the street anyway. And as a result, Mousavi decided that he had to be there to protect, he said, to protect his supporters and he spoke to them. But it was on the back of a small truck, and it was in the middle of a sea of people.

SIEGEL: Mike, when Mousavi's supporters charge fraud and claim that the results were falsified, is that to them just a self-evident charge or are there specific districts they point to or events of fraud that they cite? How much detail is there to that claim?

SHUSTER: There's very little detail, Robert. They don't cite many specifics at all, possibly in part because the Interior Ministry, which supervised the vote counting, really hasn't released detailed statistics about the votes in a lot of places across Iran. But your choice of the word self-evident, I think, is apropos. I think that the people who support Mousavi know that it's impossible that he lost in a 2:1 landslide victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I think that if the figures had come out 52:48, they might have been credible and they might have been accepted by the Mousavi supporters.

SIEGEL: Mousavi met yesterday with Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, to discuss the allegations of election fraud, and Khamenei asked for a review of the results by the powerful Guardian Council. What does that say?

SHUSTER: Well, my understanding is that Mousavi appealed to Khamenei, and he said he wanted to take this to the Guardian Council for review and that Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, in effect gave that his blessing. He urged Mousavi to use legal procedures to have a look at this and have it reviewed, not to order his people into the streets. The Guardian Council then today said it would take on the issue, and it would take from a week to ten days to bring about a ruling, which sounds to me like an effort to quell the demonstrations and quiet things down while the supporters of Mousavi wait for a decision from the Guardian Council, and I don't think that's going to happen.

SIEGEL: You assume there will be more demonstrations?

SHUSTER: They were already talking at the end of the day about another demonstration in Central Tehran, and I think we could very well see a daily huge march and demonstration until the Guardian Council gives its ruling.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Mike.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Shuster speaking to us from Tehran.

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