Page 2 of 3   <       >

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.

Few senior aides to Mousavi could be reached for comment. Several have been arrested, are not answering their phones or are turning their backs on Mousavi after Friday's warning by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, that protesters faced bloodshed if they continued their mass demonstrations.

"Nothing is certain now," said Hassan Baghernejad, a senior Mousavi campaign official. "Some people have accepted the definitive response by the supreme leader; others haven't. We must wait and see."

As Mousavi's supporters consider their options, the government media offensive is accelerating. The official Islamic Republic News Agency carried a lengthy article on Mousavi and quoted Alireza Zahedi, a member of the pro-government Basij militia, as saying that Mousavi instigated the unrest "because he didn't have a following among the people."

Authorities appeared to be seeking to blame the violence on radicals. Iranian state television charged that "the presence of terrorists . . . was tangible" at Saturday's events. It asked viewers to send video recordings of protesters to help authorities make arrests.

State television reported that 10 people died Saturday when clashes broke out between security forces and Mousavi supporters assembling for a rally that authorities had banned. First reports said that as many as 13 people had died, but the toll was later reduced to 10. Foreign journalists have been banned from covering the protests.

Iranian police officials said 457 people were arrested -- some with the help of local residents -- during the protests Saturday, according to Mehr News, a semiofficial Iranian news agency. The agency also reported that 40 policemen were injured, 34 state buildings were damaged, and three buses and four private cars were set on fire during the violence.

Saturday's death toll, which brought the number of fatalities in a week of protests to at least 17, added a potentially catalyzing element to the unrest. During the revolution that overthrew the shah of Iran in 1979, ushering in an Islamic republic, a cycle of protests, violent repression and more demonstrations to mourn the victims helped sustain and fortify the opposition.

Mousavi referred to those protests in his statement Sunday.

"Should the revolutionary people, who with similar gatherings and protests freed us from the forgotten history of oppression of the shah, be beaten and frightened and be challenged to a power struggle?" Mousavi asked.

He also complained that the names of those killed, wounded and arrested were not released. "It only further stirs feelings," he said.

Another statement on one of Mousavi's campaign Web sites denied news reports that he had said he was ready for "martyrdom" in the name of the protesters' cause.

Scenes from Saturday's violent protests were shown frequently on Iranian state television, and in a special broadcast the rioters were said to be members of the Paris-based Mujaheddin-e Khalq, an Islamist Marxist group that the United States has labeled a terrorist organization. The group, which sided with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and conducted a series of terrorist attacks, has little support among most Iranians.


<       2        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company