More Protests, Bitter Words As Iran Churns

Iran's opposition announced a third day of street demonstrations Wednesday as the country's most powerful military force warned of a crackdown against online media in its first pronouncement on the deepening election crisis. Video by AP
By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 18, 2009

TEHRAN, June 17 -- The leader of Iran's protest movement accused the government on Wednesday of lies, fraud and murder, while the government turned its ire on the United States, declaring that the Obama administration is stirring the unrest over Iran's disputed election.

The increasingly bitter rhetoric came as supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi defied a ban on unauthorized rallies and took to the streets again, as they have each day since Saturday, when the Interior Ministry declared that Mousavi lost the Friday balloting to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a landslide.

Mousavi, 67, a former prime minister who contends he won the election, demanded that the country's legal authorities stop plainclothes police and vigilantes from attacking his supporters. In a statement on his Web site, he said a march Monday by hundreds of thousands of his backers -- the largest unsanctioned demonstration in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution -- had "infuriated" the government and its paramilitary forces, which he called the "Disciples of Lies."

"They tried to make bitter the sweetness of this great gathering with their beastly attacks," he said, referring to the killing of seven protesters by a government-backed, volunteer militia known as the Basij, which fired into a crowd outside its local headquarters at the end of Monday's march. Mousavi called it "an appalling murder."

He also complained about the Basij in a separate letter to Iran's Supreme National Security Council. The paramilitary organization, which has about 8 million members, has violated the "freedom, order and security [which] are the intertwined rights of all citizens," Mousavi wrote in the open letter, referring again to the government and its shadowy forces as the "Disciples of Fraud and Lies."

The government, meanwhile, summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Tehran, to complain of "intolerable" interference by the United States in Iranian internal affairs, state television reported. Iranian authorities had made similar complaints this week to the ambassadors of Germany, France, Britain and the Czech Republic.

In Washington, the State Department rejected the charge, saying the United States was in "good company."

"As the president has said, we are not interfering in the debate that Iranians are having about their election and its aftermath," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "This is not about the United States."

President Obama, who has come under criticism from some quarters in Washington for not speaking out directly on behalf of the Iranian protesters, said Tuesday that he hoped the Iranian government would affirm "the universal principles of peaceful expression and democracy" but that the United States was "not meddling" in the "amazing ferment taking place in Iran."

Efforts to clamp down on outside sources of information continued Wednesday as Iranian authorities blocked CNN's Web site and reportedly jammed some BBC satellite television broadcasts. Cellphone service, including text messaging, was turned off for the fifth day in a row, and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter remained partially blocked.

Word of mouth is the main way for Iranians to get information about the protests, and some Iranians said they feared a complete shutdown of all Internet services and satellite TV broadcasts. Adding to those fears, Iranian state television aired a program, titled "The Green Wave," that portrayed the protest movement as being fomented by foreign media, including the BBC and the Arabic station al-Jazeera.

The deputy head of Iran's National Security and Foreign Policy committee, Hossein Sobhaninia, called this week for steps against CNN and the BBC, whose Farsi-language satellite channel is hugely popular here. "Without a doubt, foreign media, and especially the BBC's Persian service and radio, are the main orchestrators of disorder in the country, guiding rioting elements that support neither the candidates nor the Islamic revolution," Sobhaninia said Tuesday.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company