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GULF: Iran rules out scrapping vote as Obama questions results

By Jay Deshmukh
24 Jun 2009 3:34 AM

TEHRAN, June 23 AFP - Iran has ruled out overturning the disputed presidential election as US President Barack Obama says there are significant questions about the poll's legitimacy and condemns the crackdown on post-election protests.

As international alarm mounts over the crisis, the most serious challenge to the Islamic regime in its 30-year history, Britain says it is expelling two Iranian diplomats after a similar move by Tehran.

At the same time, other European nations have hauled in envoys to protest at the election and the repression of protests.

The top election watchdog, the Guardians Council, insists the vote will stand.

"We witnessed no major fraud or breach," spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai said on English-language state television Press TV. "Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place."

The opposition has staged almost daily rallies to protest at alleged fraud and widespread irregularities in the June 12 election, which returned hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power for a second four-year term.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was defeated by a landslide according to official results, plans to issue a "full report of electoral fraud and irregularities," a statement posted on his official website said.

But the interior ministry warned the former premier "to respect the law and the people's vote" after his defeat, state-run IRNA news agency said.

World leaders are calling for an immediate halt to state violence against the protesters, but Tehran has fired back, accusing Western governments particularly Britain and the United States of interfering, and also taking aim at United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon.

But at a White House news conference, Obama flatly denied interfering in Iran's affairs while saying there were "significant questions about the legitimacy" of the elections.

"We can't say definitively what exactly happened at polling places throughout the country. What we know is that a sizable percentage of the Iranian people themselves spanning Iranian society considered this election illegitimate.

"It's not an isolated instance, little grumbling here or there. There is significant questions about the legitimacy of the election."

Obama also strongly condemned the crackdown on protests and insisted Tehran "must govern through consent, and not coercion".

And he said he was watching how the turmoil "plays itself out" to see how it affects Tehran's prospects for engaging with the international community.

Earlier, Iran's foreign ministry took aim at the UN's Ban, saying remarks by him smacked of "meddling" in its affairs, the state broadcaster reported.

On Monday, Ban called on Iranian authorities to stop resorting to arrests, threats and the use of force against civilians.

The state media said at least 17 people have been killed and many more wounded in the unrest that has convulsed the nation for 11 days.

Hundreds of protesters and prominent reformists and journalists have been rounded up by the authorities - even figures close to top regime officials including powerful cleric and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The 27-member European Union on Monday also rejected Iran's claims of interference as "baseless and unacceptable" but voiced deep concern about the continuing violence.

And France, Finland and Sweden summoned the Iranian ambassadors in their capitals, with Paris protesting at the "brutal repression" of demonstrators.

Iran has singled out Britain, as well as the United States, as one of the leading instigators of the post-election unrest, with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last week describing it as the "most evil" of its enemies.

An Iranian lawmaker was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency that Tehran's ambassador to London would be recalled for consultations, but this was later denied by a foreign ministry source to AFP.

London is pulling out families of embassy staff and, along with some other European nations, warned its nationals against travel to Iran.

But student unions cancelled a planned demonstration outside the British embassy in Tehran after the interior ministry said it would not issue a permit.

Mousavi has urged his supporters to continue demonstrating but to adopt "self-restraint" to avoid more bloodshed.

Defeated reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi called for a ceremony on Thursday to mourn slain protesters.

The Guardians Council, which has acknowledged there were more votes cast than eligible voters in 50 of 366 constituencies, is due to make its final ruling on Wednesday.

The defeated challengers have listed 646 irregularities and are insisting on a new election, not a recount.

But parliament said it was preparing for the new government to take office.