Iran Braces For Another Mass Opposition Protest

Correction June 19, 2009

In this report, listeners heard a clip of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. We should have mentioned that the clip was courtesy of Al-Jazeera.

Demonstrators continue to take to the streets in Tehran to protest last week's disputed presidential election. The opposition leader has called for another mass rally Thursday. Although many pictures of the huge crowds have been televised internationally, Iranian state-controlled TV has acted as though only pro-Ahmadinejad supporters were in the streets.

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[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, listeners heard a clip of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. We should have mentioned that the clip was courtesy of Al-Jazeera.]

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee's away. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

State-controlled TV in Iran portrays the country's disputed election as a minor, inside-the-family political issue. That's the official line on Iranian TV, but even viewers of official channels can see hence that it has become a worldwide story. They might have caught the subtle meaning of green tape on the hands of some people showed playing soccer in South Korea. We'll explain more in a moment. We'll also hear the way that Iranians are following the news from outside their home country. We begin this morning with the latest protests in Tehran.

International news organizations are now banned from covering these events, but word has still come today from a witness that people gathered once again in downtown Tehran. They rallied in support of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who says the presidential election was stolen. So now the daily battle resumes over whose messages get out and whose do not. We have more today from NPR's Mike Shuster.

MIKE SHUSTER: Although there have been many pictures of the huge crowds televised internationally, Iranian state-controlled television has so far acted as though only pro-Ahmadinejad supporters were turning out into the streets. But slight cracks in that media blackout have occurred.

On Wednesday, Press TV, Iran's 24-hour English satellite channel, did finally concede that hundreds of thousands of Mousavi's supporters have been marching in the streets, and state TV broadcast video of yesterday marchers. Iranian TV has shown extensive pictures of the nighttime violence that has spread across Tehran, including burning cars and buses and smashed bank windows. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday condemned what he called these vandals.

Ayatollah ALI KHAMENEI (Supreme Leader, Iran): (Through translator) Everybody should confront these acts of sabotage. Everybody should take a clear stance against these unrests. This destruction which is taking place is not related to candidates. These are, rather, acts of insurgents and mutineers.

SHUSTER: But many in the Mousavi camp believe those committing the violence are, for the most part, members of the pro-government street militia known as the Basiji, acting as provocateurs and setting the stage, possibly, for a more violent police crackdown. Two nights ago, the father of a translator for NPR saw a member of this militia explode an incendiary grenade under a car. The BBC spoke to one resident of Tehran who has seen the Basiji at work. He declined to provide his name. He said yesterday's marches were peaceful, but everything changed when the sun went down.

(Soundbite of BBC News broadcast)

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible) like aerial gunshots, tear gas and Basiji, the voluntary militia members, trying to do anything violent they can. They got - smashed the door, the glass door. They're smashing the cars, setting fire in them, setting fire anywhere they can, smashing anything they can find.

SHUSTER: TV viewers in Iran did see several of Iran's players on the national soccer team wearing green tape on their uniforms and green wrist bands during a World Cup qualifying match with South Korea. Green is the symbol of the Mousavi campaign. Dozens of pro-Mousavi activists have now been arrested. Yesterday, two well-known political analysts were taken into custody according to widely circulated reports. One of them is Saeed Laylaz, who has spoken to NPR frequently in the past and who expressed surprise himself at the strength of the Mousavi campaign just two days before last Friday's election. At that time, Laylaz blamed Ahmadinejad for the rapidly emerging movement against him.

Mr. SAEED LAYLAZ (Political Analyst): This situation is direct consequence of Mr. Ahamdinejad's government performance since the last four years. He actually destroyed economy of Iran. He actually destroyed the Iranian self-confidence and Iran's image among the world community.

SHUSTER: The Iranian government yesterday accused the U.S. government of what it called intolerable interference in the affairs of Iran. President Obama and others in his administration have been trying to choose their words carefully as they respond to events in Iran. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the right of Iranians to register their dissent peacefully.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): The people of Iran deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted. The outcome of any election should reflect the will of the people, and it is for the Iranians to determine how they resolve this internal protest concerning the outcome of the recent election.

SHUSTER: At least eight demonstrators are believed to have been killed so far. One was shot on Monday when hundreds of thousands turned out to protest the election results. The others were apparently killed earlier the same day when militia descended on Tehran University and went room to room searching for student activists.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Dubai.

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Iran Accuses U.S. Of Inciting Political Tensions

Former Iranian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. i i

hide captionFormer Iranian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi signals victory after voting Friday in Tehran.

Majid/Getty Images
Former Iranian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Former Iranian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi signals victory after voting Friday in Tehran.

Majid/Getty Images
Supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi protest Tuesday in Tehran. i i

hide captionSupporters of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi run in the streets during protests Tuesday in Tehran.

Getty Images
Supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi protest Tuesday in Tehran.

Supporters of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi run in the streets during protests Tuesday in Tehran.

Getty Images

Iran's leadership on Wednesday accused the United States of instigating political unrest after last week's disputed election that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power amid accusations of vote fraud by his reformist rival.

Iranian officials summoned the Swiss ambassador — who represents U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of formal diplomatic ties between Washington and Tehran — to complain about "intolerable" meddling by the United States in Iran's internal affairs, the country's state television reported.

President Obama has said the U.S. respects Iran's sovereignty, but he has expressed "deep concerns" about the legitimacy of the election.

The Iranian television report came on the same day that thousands of people gathered in Tehran for a fifth straight day of protests by supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. The opposition leader stepped up a challenge to the country's all-powerful Islamic leadership by urging another mass rally Thursday.

The call to protest defies Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has warned Mousavi to pursue his demand for a new election through official channels and to halt demonstrations. Thursday's rally was also billed as a national day of mourning for seven people killed in clashes with pro-government militiamen earlier in the week.

"In the course of the past days and as a consequence of illegal and violent encounters" against protesters, "a number of our countrymen were wounded or martyred," Mousavi said on his Web site.

"We are after a peaceful rally to protest the unhealthy trend of the elections and realize our goal of annulling the election results," he said, asking his followers to wear black in memory of those slain and the alleged voting fraud.

Mousavi has charged Ahmadinejad with stealing the election, but the incumbent said the victory in Friday's vote was based on his government's "honesty and service to the people," according to a statement released by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

ISNA and the private ILNA news agency also reported that scuffles broke out between a reformist lawmaker and a hard-line legislator in an open session of the Parliament after they exchanged verbal attacks over the vote results.

On Wednesday, protesters — many clad in black and wearing headbands in the signature green of Mousavi's campaign — assembled in and around Tehran's Haft-e Tir square.

The opposition street protests, combined with dissent from powerful clerical and political figures, present one of the gravest threats to Iran's complex blend of democracy and religious authority since the system emerged from the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power.

Blogs and Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been vital conduits for Iranians to inform the world about protests and violence after the government banned foreign reporters.

The Revolutionary Guard, an elite military force answering to Khamenei, said through the state news service that its investigators have taken action against "deviant news sites" that encouraged public disturbance and street riots.

Mousavi condemned the government for blocking Web sites, saying it did not tolerate the voice of the opposition.

Iran's most senior dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, said that the ruling Islamic system had no political or religious legitimacy because of widespread vote fraud. In a statement on his Web site, he said "no sound mind" would accept the results.

"A government that is based on intervening in [people's] vote has no political or religious legitimacy," said Montazeri, who had been set to succeed Khomeini as supreme leader, until he was ousted because of criticisms of the revolution.

From NPR staff and wire services

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