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Protesters Return to Tehran Streets

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.
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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.

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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.

Audio clips were played of alleged recordings of telephone calls in which people said to be members of the organization urged others to pass on information about the protests to Western news organizations. But the group's involvement seems highly unlikely because its supporters are rare in Iran.

Also Sunday, state-run news media reported the arrest of the eldest daughter and four other relatives of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a Shiite Muslim cleric who heads two powerful groups in Iran's theocratic governing system. Rafsanjani has emerged as a strong critic of Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani's whereabouts were unknown. Members of the Basij are asking for his daughter, Faezeh, who used to run a magazine promoting women's rights and who has supported Mousavi, and other family members to be put on trial on corruption charges.

The unrest has focused attention on the political maneuvering inside Iran's normally opaque power circle, especially between Rafsanjani and Khamenei, who announced Friday that he supported Ahmadinejad. In a rare show of criticism, the speaker of Iran's parliament, Ali Larijani, said the Guardian Council, the elite group charged with certifying elections, should not side with one candidate. Larijani is known for his loyalty to Khamenei.

"Although the Guardian Council is made up of religious individuals, I wish certain members would not side with a certain presidential candidate," said Larijani, according to a Web site affiliated with him.

"The Guardian Council should use every possible means to build trust and convince the protesters that their complaints will be thoroughly looked into," he added.

Larijani, who for two years led Iran's negotiations on its nuclear program, also acknowledged the scale of the protests. "A majority of people are of the opinion that the actual election results are different than what was officially announced," he said. "The opinion of this majority should be respected and a line should be drawn between them and rioters and miscreants."

He also criticized the state broadcasting service, which he formerly led, saying that Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting "should not act in a way that provokes people." The authorities should provide an atmosphere in which people feel free to express themselves, Larijani said.

Staff writer William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.


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