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Iranian Cleric Calls for 'Ruthless' Punishment of Protest Leaders

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.

"After 10 days of examination, we did not see any major irregularities," a council spokesman, Abbas Ali Kadkhodai, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency. The council is scheduled to complete an inquiry into the election by Monday.

But the council later announced the formation of a "special committee" to review the election process and invited participation by representatives of Mousavi and another opposition candidate, Mehdi Karroubi. The council gave the two candidates 24 hours to name their representatives. It said 10 percent of the ballot boxes would be recounted in the presence of the committee, which would then issue a report about the election. No deadline for the report was specified.

The council said the special committee would also include "political and social figures," notably Ali Akbar Velayati, who served as foreign minister when Mousavi was prime minister in the 1980s and who is now an adviser to Khamenei on international affairs.

There was no immediate response from Mousavi or Karroubi, who have criticized the Guardian Council. They have called on the council to annul the election and hold a new one.

In his Friday sermon, Khatami ruled that out. He denied that the election was rigged and said those who insist on nullifying it "should know that this idea will be fruitless."

Addressing thousands of chanting supporters, he harshly denounced various foreign governments, the United Nations and Western news media, which he accused of false reporting and "assisting the enemy." He told the gathering, "I do not know how they are free to roam around in the country."

Appealing for unity, Khatami said, "Let us not institutionalize grudges. . . . Let us have a united position against the foreigners who have prepared their sharp satanic teeth to loot the legacy of your martyrs."

The cleric, a member of the Assembly of Experts and a supporter of Ahmadinejad, claimed that protesters were responsible for the slaying of a young woman, Neda Agha Soltan, who has become an opposition icon since cellphone cameras captured her dying moments after she was shot last Saturday on a Tehran street.

"Take a look at the story of the lady who was killed for whom Mr. Obama sheds crocodile tears and the West has made a big story," he said. "Any logical individual who watches the film realizes that the work has been done by rioters themselves."

Khatami also asserted that the woman was killed in "a quiet alley" where security forces "would only arrest people" rather than shoot them. "The state does not kill people in such places," he said. "All signs and evidence show that they [protesters] were behind this murder. Now they make a hue and cry against the state. I am warning those liar media."

Arash Hejazi, an Iranian doctor who says he tried to help Agha Soltan, has told British news media that she was shot by a member of the pro-government Basij militia who was riding a motorcycle.

At Tehran's Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, dozens of friends, relatives and other well-wishers paid their respects at Agha Soltan's grave Friday, stopping briefly to utter prayers or place flowers before moving on, news agencies reported. The government has prohibited public mourning ceremonies for the young philosophy student.

"What sin did she commit?" asked a young woman tearfully as she prayed in front of the grave, Agence France-Presse reported. "Pray for our future," an elderly man said.

Branigin reported from Washington.

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