Iranian opposition leader Mousavi speaks out

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 28, 2010

TEHRAN -- In his first statement since protest rallies planned for Feb. 11 largely fizzled, Iran's top opposition figure, Mir Hossein Mousavi, described the Tehran government Saturday as a "gang with no respect for Iran's interests."

Mousavi, one of two candidates who disputed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection in June, accused Iranian authorities of "engineering" the normally festive celebrations marking the anniversary of the Islamic revolution into a "massive crackdown" by security forces.

On Thursday, the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reiterated the government's demand that opposition leaders halt their protests and statements of defiance, saying that by "refusing to bow before the law," they had lost "the privilege of being part of the system." Authorities say most Iranians support their stance.

Instead, Mousavi joined fellow opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi in calling for a permit to stage an official demonstration. He did not, however, propose new strategies, other than asking his supporters to "boost the level of public awareness."

"Any change requires awareness throughout the society," Mousavi said in the interview with his Kaleme Web site. "Increasing the level of people's awareness is not achieved only in street protests."

He urged his supporters to avoid violence during an upcoming fire festival and appeared to be opting for different longer-term strategies, which in the coming months might not involve the opposition's signature protests during state-sponsored rallies.

Addressing a long-festering split among some of the movement's supporters over whether to push for reforms or attempt to overthrow the system, Mousavi again stated that the aim should be constitutional change, rather than regime change. "The goal of the Green Movement -- reform -- is very clear," he said.

He also warned against fatigue, saying that the opposition "must not turn into an everyday thing and become passive."

The former presidential candidate, who despite dozens of threats of arrest is still free, said that the opposition movement had "missed a historic chance" to show its presence during the state-backed rallies Feb. 11. Still, Mousavi, said, he was sure that the government's crackdown during the rallies would deepen and broaden the opposition.

"Tens of millions of Iranians are calling for a halt to censorship, restrictions, repression, adventurism and ambivalence in foreign diplomacy, ruinous economic polices and the expansion of corruption and lies," he said. "Our people very well understand the difference between merciful religiousness and power grabbers in the clothes of religion."

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