Iran's Clerical Body Acknowledges Election Flaws

A few hundred pro-reformers gathered Monday in central Tehran amid heavy police presence, protesting the results of the presidential election. Meanwhile, the powerful Guardian Council acknowledged flaws in the election results. Los Angeles Times Middle East correspondent Borzou Daragahi says it is unclear what the council's statement means, but the body will issue a final ruling Wednesday.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Iran today, these developments: the Guardian Council, the country's highest authority of Islamic jurists, acknowledged flaws in the recent presidential election. But they said that were not so great as to affect the outcome, the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And riot police broke up a rally in the center of Tehran. The Revolutionary Guards have denounced protest demonstrations as sabotage and a conspiracy against Iran.

Well, joining us from Tehran is Borzou Daragahi, who is a Middle East correspondent for Los Angeles Times. And Borzou Daragahi, first, in the square-off between protestors and the authorities, what happened today?

Mr. BORZOU DARAGAHI (Middle East Correspondent, Los Angeles Times): It was rather small, from what we understand. It was not a very large gathering. According to witnesses, it was no more than a couple hundred people. They tried to gather in the Haft-e Tir, 7th of Tir Square in downtown Tehran, and the police broke it up before it got to any kind of magnitude with tear gas, arresting a few people.

SIEGEL: Do the significantly smaller crowds suggest that the crackdown has had a real effect or were there simply no big protests called for today?

Mr. DARAGAHI: There were no real big protests called for by the opposition candidate, the opponent to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. But I think people are trying to gather. They feel like it's important for them to keep the momentum up. Mousavi himself issued a statement in which he basically said that, you know, protesting peacefully is your right. Don't lose heart. Keep at it. And keep the faith.

SIEGEL: The Guardian Council said that there were voting irregularities in 50 districts. Is that seen there as the final, official word rejecting appeals for a recount or revote?

Mr. DARAGAHI: It's not quite sure what that statement meant. They did also say that by Wednesday, they would have a final verdict on the vote. But they acknowledged that in 50 districts, there was more votes cast than registered voters. And the spokesman for the Guardian Council said that this could affect three million or more votes. But that's still not enough to swing the election away from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who won by an unprecedented 11 million votes.

SIEGEL: Was there any official explanation of how there could be more than 100 percent of registration casting votes?

Mr. DARAGAHI: Well, this has happened before. I mean, one possibility is that people voted in a different district than where they lived. It's not hard to cast the vote in Iran. You just show your I.D. card. It's called a (foreign language spoken). And, you know, they stamp it, showing that you voted on that particular day. But if you happen to be out of town, you can go to any polling station and vote there.

SIEGEL: An Iranian-American researcher who's in Tehran told me last week that he foresaw a turning point here. The protests after the election were demanding a fair count of the votes. Once the highest organs of the Islamic Republic say that the vote was fair, then the question will be do the protests continue against the Guardian Council or against the supreme leader or against the Islamic Republic itself? What is your sense? Has the target of the protest movement been magnified in recent days?

Mr. DARAGAHI: Well, I think that's a very good question. I think that it's hard to even call it a movement at this point. There's no clear leadership or vision. Mousavi is kind of the figurehead of the movement. And it's not clear where it's headed. But, you know, indeed, I think that for many, many Iranians, this has kind of cleared away the blinders and disillusioned them with the idea of reforming the system. Because it just seems like there's a big huge roadblock in the way of changing the state of Islamic Republic. And I think that's, you know, it's a risky step for the leadership of the country to take to make it that clearcut because it makes every person who has a little bit of a complaint about the way the country is run into a potential counterrevolutionary.

SIEGEL: Borzou Daragahi, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. DARAGAHI: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Mr. Daragahi is a Middle East correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He spoke to us from Tehran.

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