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MID: Iranian rally organiser backs down amid police warnings

By Jay Deshmukh
20 Jun 2009 7:32 PM

TEHRAN, June 20 AFP - An Iranian group that had planned to organise a rally on Saturday backed down after authorities warned of consequences if they went ahead in defiance of the supreme leader's call for a halt to protest.

The reformist Combatant Clerics Assembly said "permission was asked to hold a rally, but since it has not been issued, there will be no rally held."

Only minutes earlier, the interior ministry said no rally anywhere in the country was authorised and warned that "those who violate this will be confronted according to the law."

Another organiser of the planned rally, supporters of defeated candidate Mehdi Karroubi, have not yet announced if they will demonstrate or not.

Police said the organisers of any future rallies would be arrested, with the police chief saying firm action would be taken against any demonstration.

Witnesses had reported late on Friday that uniformed and helmeted members of the hardline Basij militia had been deployed in Tehran streets carrying clubs and some of them Kalashnikov rifles.

The militiamen had reportedly withdrawn from their positions on Saturday morning, but the situation remained tense.

An aide to Karroubi had told AFP on Saturday that a rally would be held in Tehran.

That came despite supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday demanding an end to marches and warning that candidates would be held responsible for any violence.

Meanwhile defeated candidates Karroubi, former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi and ex-Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai, were to meet officials to discuss alleged electoral violations.

However, Mousavi and Karroubi did not show up at the meeting, Press TV reported.

Early on Saturday afternoon, Mousavi's newspaper website said he would soon make an "important" announcement, but did not elaborate.

And powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was also to issue a statement, media reported.

In demanding an end to protests, Khamenei warned that otherwise there could be further bloodshed beyond the seven deaths reported by state radio.

Amnesty International said on Friday it had information of up to 10 deaths.

Beyond Khamenei's general warning, Mousavi was singled out by the head of Iran's security council on Saturday for a specific one.

"Your national duty tells you to refrain from provoking illegal gatherings," Abbas Mohtaj, who is also deputy interior minister, said in a letter to him.

"Should you provoke and call for these illegal rallies you will be responsible for the consequences," he said.

Iran's capital has been rocked by daily demonstrations since the disputed re-election of President Ahmadinejad on June 12 drew claims from leading rival and former premier Mousavi of massive vote fraud.

Siding with Ahmadinejad in his first public appearance since the vote, Khamenei ruled out major fraud in the poll.

"The people have chosen whom they wanted," Khamenei said in a prayer sermon on Friday, referring to Ahmadinejad.

"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 Ahmadinejad.

Afterwards, Obama warned Iran that the "world is watching" its actions.

"I'm very concerned based on some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made that the government of Iran recognise that the world is watching," Obama said on US television on Friday.

"And how they approach and deal with people who are, through peaceful means, trying to be heard will, I think, send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and is not."

Obama also attempted to debunk claims by some in the Iranian leadership that demonstrators were acting at the behest of the United States, which has had a history of antagonism with Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Senior US officials earlier stressed that Washington was making strenuous efforts to avoid being drawn into the crisis in a way that could be used by the government against the demonstrators.

"The more the United States looks like they are going to interfere, the more it is going to be detrimental," said one official on condition of anonymity.

"This is not about us."

Despite assurances by top officials that Washington would not inject itself into the crisis, both houses of the US Congress voted to condemn violence against demonstrators by the Iranian government.

A House of Representatives resolution, adopted by a vote of 405-1, expressed "its support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties and rule of law."

Karroubi has become the second losing candidate to demand a new election in a letter to the electoral watchdog the Guardians Council.

Mousavi has repeatedly demanded a re-run of the poll, denouncing the election as a "shameful fraud."

But Khamenei said there could be no doubting Ahmadinejad's re-election to a second four-year term, despite the 646 alleged poll violations registered by the three defeated candidates with the Guardians Council.

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

In addition to the United States, other world powers and entities have also expressed concern about the post-election violence and widespread arrests, with EU leaders, the UN human rights body and Amnesty International urging Iran to respect the right to protest.

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.