Post-election tensions flare at Iranian media expo

By Thomas Erdbrink
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TEHRAN --As she watched a video at the exhibition booth of a pro-government news agency, the young Iranian woman became incensed at its portrayal of two leading opposition figures.

The video shown by Borna News accused Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, opposition candidates in Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election, of lying and inciting sedition, with scenes of war and exploding hand grenades edited in for emphasis.

"Who is inciting here?" the woman, who gave her name only as Maryam, demanded loudly while watching the video. "The truth is clear for all to see!"

"No, it is those men who have betrayed the nation," a man with a gray moustache responded angrily. The two glared at each other. "She's crazy," the man said to the surrounding crowd. "I speak the truth," she replied.

The exchange, one of many encounters at an annual news media exposition, illustrated the simmering political tension that continues to roil Iran more than four months after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed reelection, dismissing opposition charges of widespread fraud.

In other incidents at the 16th International Exhibition of Press and News Agencies, Karroubi and a top Mousavi aide were roughed up by pro-government vigilantes over the weekend, and authorities prematurely closed the expo without explanation Monday afternoon before reopening it hours later as large crowds waited at the entrance.

Usually a low-key event showcasing Iranian news outlets and international media with offices in Iran, the expo, scheduled to run Oct. 20-27, turned into the latest indicator that Iranians remain divided after this summer's post-election violence, when dozens of people were killed and hundreds arrested in a crackdown on street protests.

On Friday, Karroubi, a Shiite Muslim cleric, was set upon during a visit to the fair, where about 1,500 mainly state-owned domestic media outlets and 30 foreign organizations displayed their work. In the melee, one of his bodyguards drew a gun, pro-government media reported.

Opposition Web sites said the editor of a state newspaper attempted to stab Karroubi. Neither report could be independently verified. A video clip showed a disheveled Karroubi leaving the expo, his turban missing and his cloak askew.

In a separate visit Sunday, Mousavi aide Ali Reza Beheshti came under attack.

As rumors spread Saturday that Mousavi himself was about to visit the fair, shouting matches broke out between his supporters and opponents. People later said Mousavi had been stopped at the outer gate of the exhibition at Tehran's sprawling grand prayer hall complex.

Iran's main pro-government media outlets maintained slick booths at the exhibition; a few opposition newspapers and Web sites were tucked away on the sidelines. Visitors -- a mix of government supporters and middle-class Tehran residents who voted against Ahmadinejad -- openly vented their differences.

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