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MID: Khamenei says Iran protests must end

By Jay Deshmukh
20 Jun 2009 2:54 AM

TEHRAN, June 19 AFP - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has demanded an end to street protests over last week's disputed presidential election, siding with declared winner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Making his first public appearance on Friday after daily demonstrations against the results, he ruled out any major fraud in the election and warned that defeated candidates would be held to account over any renewed violence on the streets.

"The people have chosen whom they wanted," Khamenei said in a sermon at the main weekly prayers in Tehran.

"I see some people more suitable for serving the country than others but the people made their choice," he said to cheers from tens of thousands of faithful, who included the victorious hardline incumbent.

However, after Khamenei's sermon, reformist former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi became the second losing candidate to demand a new election.

"By deciding fairly to cancel the election and hold it again, you would be accepting the nation's will and guaranteeing the permanence of the system," Karroubi wrote in a letter to the electoral watchdog, the Guardians Council.

Ahmadinejad's principal challenger, moderate former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi, had repeatedly demanded a re-run of the election, which he has denounced as a "shameful fraud".

Khamenei insisted that despite the 646 alleged poll violations registered by the three defeated candidates with the Guardians Council electoral watchdog, there could be no doubting Ahmadinejad's re-election to a second four-year term given his margin of victory.

"The legal mechanisms in our country do not allow cheating. How can one cheat with a margin of 11 million votes," he asked.

Khamenei demanded that the protests that have rocked the streets of the capital for the past week now cease, warning that otherwise there's a risk of further bloodshed beyond the seven deaths reported by state radio so far.

"I want to tell everyone these things must finish. These street actions are being done to put pressure on leaders but we will not bow in front of them.

"Those politicians who somehow have influence on people should be very careful about their behaviour if they act in an extremist manner.

"This extremism will reach a sensitive level which they will not be able to contain. They will be responsible for the blood, violence and chaos," he added, warning that "terrorists who could assassinate the Basij (militia) or the police" might hide among the demonstrators.

But a defiant Karroubi accused the authorities of having "killed people" during the protests, adding the government's "offences" in the election continue.

"They beat up people with sticks and daggers during their peaceful rally and engineered the unrest and blamed the people," he said.

"The government called the people's protest as a protest against the system and created an atmosphere of fear by censoring the media, cutting mobile phones and text message services. They killed people and then held their funerals to keep the people silent."

"If a government is elected based on a legitimate election, why would it need to create an atmosphere of fear and fright," the 72-year-old cleric said.

London-based rights group Amnesty International said on Friday it had information on up to 15 deaths in protests since the results were declared.

The opposition has been planning a new mass rally in the capital on Saturday, to be addressed by Mousavi.

But Tehran Governor Morteza Tamadon made clear the gathering has no authorisation and called for it to be cancelled.

There was no immediate word from the reformist clerical association which is organising the rally on whether they still plan to go ahead.

Mousavi, Karroubi and the third defeated candidate, ex-Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai, have been invited to set out their grievances before the Guardians Council on Saturday.

The council has said it will make its decision about any recount on Sunday.

World powers expressed renewed concern about the violence and widespread arrests that have followed the election, with EU leaders urging Iran on Friday to respect the right to protest.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay expressed concern about the "possible illegal use of excessive force", while Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi called for international efforts to "stop Iran's government firing on its people".

In the face of the regime's biggest crisis since the 1979 revolution overthrew the pro-Western shah, Iran's Islamic rulers have repeatedly lashed out at "meddling" by foreign powers.

Khamenei renewed the charge on Friday, singling out Britain for particular criticism.

"Today, top diplomats of several Western countries who talked to us so far within diplomatic formalities are showing their real face, and most of all the British government," he said.

Britain's Foreign Office told Iran's charge d'affaires in London that Khamenei's comments are "unacceptable".

Western governments have repeatedly insisted they are not trying to interfere in the Iranian election, but merely defending universal rights of peaceful protest.