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Iran's Ahmadinejad Demands Apology From Obama

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.

"The truth . . . is that a major fraud has taken place in these elections, and the people who tried to show their dismay with this event were attacked, killed and arrested," Mousavi said. "Not only am I not scared of responding to their false accusations, but I'm ready to show how the people responsible for the presidential fraud" are also to blame for having "spilled the blood of the people." Mousavi asked his followers to "continue your legal and responsible protest, which is born out of the Islamic revolution, with calm and by avoiding trouble."

His Web site also said 70 academics were arrested Wednesday night and early Thursday after meeting with him. It said that authorities released all but four and that those still detained included Mousavi's former campaign manager.

The pro-government Fars News Agency denied the account. Quoting an "informed source," it said that prosecutors questioned "certain participants" after Mousavi's meeting with members of the Islamic Association of University Lecturers but that "none of the said people were arrested."

A senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, called for the election dispute to be settled through "national reconciliation," saying in a statement Thursday that recent events "have caused deep regret and sorrow in all Iranians loyal to the Islamic establishment and revolution . . . and have gladdened the enemy," state-run Press TV reported. "Definitively, something must be done to ensure that there are no embers burning under the ashes" and to turn "hostilities, antagonism and rivalries . . . into amity and cooperation" he said.

But a leading dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, said an "impartial" committee should resolve the election dispute, which he warned could ultimately undermine the government if it is not addressed. "If Iranians cannot talk about their legitimate rights at peaceful gatherings and are instead suppressed, complexities will build up which could possibly uproot the foundations of the government, no matter how powerful," Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.

At a G-8 meeting in Trieste, Italy, foreign ministers sought to forge a united stand against the Iranian crackdown but ran into opposition from Russia. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Iran "must now choose whether or not it wants to keep the door open to dialogue with the international community, because the open hand from the United States, that we supported, must not be greeted with a hand covered in blood."

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband deplored a "profound clampdown" in Iran and said a "crisis of credibility" is dividing Iran's government from its people.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov opposed any condemnation of Tehran, saying after talks with Frattini that "isolating Iran is the wrong approach."

The streets of Tehran were largely quiet Thursday after another opposition presidential candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, postponed plans for a demonstration to mourn protesters killed by security forces. Karroubi said he has not "succeeded in booking a particular location" for a mourning ceremony, apparently because the government has banned demonstrations. He said he still wants to organize a gathering that would "match the dignity of the martyrs of the past few days."

Karroubi also charged that the government has acted illegally in banning demonstrations and arresting political activists. He called for the immediate release of political detainees, and he challenged the Interior Ministry to allow separate but simultaneous demonstrations by Ahmadinejad supporters and the opposition to see which side would draw more people.

At least 17 people have been reported killed in violence after the presidential election, state-run media have reported. But Press TV, an English-language version of state television, put the death toll at 20 and quoted "informed sources" as saying that eight of the dead were members of the pro-government Basij militia. There was no independent confirmation of the claim, which marked the first mention in official media of deaths among security forces in the recent violence.

Branigin reported from Washington.

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