By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
TEHRAN, July 7 -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledged continued defiance of Western powers Tuesday and blamed foreigners for unrest following his disputed reelection, as opposition leaders demanded an end to a government crackdown and the release of detained protesters.
"Our arrogant enemies tried to interfere in our domestic affairs in order to undermine these great elections," Ahmadinejad said in a speech broadcast live on state television. "What they did was very wrong, and some of our people were, unfortunately, hurt." He was referring to post-election violence in which at least 20 protesters were reported killed and more than 100 injured by security forces.
Three opposition leaders warned Tuesday that the bloodshed and hundreds of arrests would radicalize the opposition. Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister who says he was denied victory in the June 12 presidential election through large-scale fraud, joined another candidate, cleric Mehdi Karroubi, and a former president, Mohammad Khatami, in making the statement, which was posted on Mousavi's Web site.
Ahmadinejad struck a conciliatory tone on domestic issues, saying that everyone is allowed to voice criticism in Iran. But he made no mention of the political opponents arrested over the past three weeks. And he said his challengers lacked proof for their allegations that the election was rigged.
"The people who claimed there was fraud didn't even have one document" to prove it, he said, sitting in the garden of his presidential palace. "We have no expectations from normal people, but we didn't expect politicians to question this great epic."
He said of Western powers: "The result of their childish acts of interference in Iran's internal affairs is that the Iranian nation and government will enter the global stage several times more powerful."
Ahmadinejad hinted that he would try to stop the widely resented morality patrols in which authorities arrest mainly women whose head scarves reveal too much hair or who wear high boots over their pants. The patrols were a hotly debated election topic, and all three of Ahmadinejad's challengers said they would abolish them.
In his next term, which is due to begin by mid-August, Ahmadinejad said he would reshuffle his cabinet because some of his ministers have underperformed. Eleven ministers have been either impeached by parliament or fired by Ahmadinejad since he took office in 2005.
"Iran has a shining future," Ahmadinejad concluded. But in Tehran's neighborhoods, his half-hour speech was met with rooftop shouts of "Allahu akbar" (God is great) and "Death to the dictator," the opposition's rallying cries.
In a joint statement that followed a meeting Monday, Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami said: "The useless wave of arrests must end immediately, and all those detained without committing the least crimes must be released." They added: "Security and military forces must return to their bases."
The statement also deplored "savage and shocking attacks" by members of the pro-government Basij militia against protesters.
However, none of the three opposition leaders called on supporters to take to the streets Thursday, when some plan to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Basij attacks on Tehran University student dormitories in 1999.
The government has ordered all offices closed this week, citing a rare sandstorm that has seriously aggravated Tehran's air pollution. But authorities have not officially stated that demonstrations on Thursday are illegal.