As Tense Calm Prevails in Tehran, War of Words Intensifies

After a hotly contested election pitting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against leading challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, the government declared Ahmadinejad the winner on June 13. Mousavi's supporters took to the streets to protest the results, and were met with harsh security crackdowns.

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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 22, 2009

TEHRAN, June 21 -- The Iranian government and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi stepped up their war of words Sunday after at least 10 people were killed in clashes on Saturday, while an uneasy calm prevailed on the streets of Tehran on Sunday for the first time since Iran's worst political crisis in 30 years began a week ago.

Government media lashed out Sunday at Mousavi, suggesting that some of his actions were illegal and blaming "terrorists" for Saturday's violence, in which at least 100 people were injured. The semiofficial Fars News Agency, which has strong ties to the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, quoted a law professor at Tehran University as saying that Mousavi's actions were criminal.

"Through uncivil and illegal means, he created an environment for unrest and hooliganism," Firouz Aslani told Fars News. "Contrary to his claims of lawfulness, he acted against the security of the nation and the interests of the system."

Some analysts in Tehran said those comments and others carried in the state-run news media questioning the legality of Mousavi's actions could be the government's way of preparing the ground for his arrest.

Mousavi, 67, a former prime minister who has alleged that the June 12 election officially won by Ahmadinejad was riddled with fraud, made no public appearances Sunday. But he responded to statements against him by condemning the government's use of force against protesters and urging his supporters to stay calm.

"The heart-rending news of the martyrdom of yet another group of protesters to the recent fraud in the elections put our nation in shock and sorrow," Mousavi, who has become the face of a broad and deep protest movement that has drawn hundreds of thousands of people into the streets, argued in a posting on his banned newspaper's Web site.

"Shooting at the people, militarizing the city, scaring the people, provoking them, and displaying power are all the result of the unlawfulness we're witnessing today," he wrote, arguing that Iranians have the right to peaceful protest.

In Washington, President Obama made no public statements on the Iran unrest Sunday; on Saturday, he had made his most forceful comments to date on the issue, calling on the government in Tehran to stop its "violence and unjust" crackdown. On Sunday television talk shows, several Republican lawmakers criticized Obama's response to the situation.

"I appreciate what the president said yesterday, but he's been timid and passive more than I would like, and I hope he will continue to speak truth to power," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said on ABC's "This Week." "Anytime America stands up for freedom, we're better off. When we try to prop up dictators or remain silent, it comes back to bite us."

"If America stands for democracy and all of these demonstrations are going on in Tehran and other cities over there, and people don't think that we really care, then obviously they're going to question: Do we really believe in our principles?" Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Administration officials have said Obama has been careful in his response to avoid giving the Iranian government an excuse to portray the protesters as U.S.-backed pawns.

Although Tehran was quieter Sunday, eyewitnesses reported gunshots and sirens in the central neighborhood of Abbas Abad. A large column of black smoke could be seen rising from the area. Eyewitnesses also reported unrest in central Haft-e Tir Square.


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