Iran Says Opposition Is 'Internal Affair,' rejects criticism

Motivated by recent shows of political strength by neighbors in Egypt, people in the Middle East and North Africa are taking to the streets of many cities to rally for change.
By Ladane Nasseri
(c) 2011 Bloomberg News
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 1:35 PM

March 1 (Bloomberg) -- Iran rejected outside criticism of its handling of the opposition after reports that two prominent dissidents had been arrested.

"These are internal affairs and no country has the right to interfere," Ramin Mehmanparast, Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters in Tehran today in comments aired live by state television. He was replying to a question about the reported detention of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi.

Mehmanparast, who didn't mention the whereabouts of the two opposition leaders, spoke before an anti-government march in Tehran. The rally led to clashes between marchers and security forces, the Associated Press cited the opposition as saying. Police used tear gas and batons to disperse protesters demanding the opposition leaders' release, with several people arrested, the AP reported, citing witnesses and opposition websites.

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague today urged the government to release Mousavi and Karrubi, according to an e- mailed statement from the Foreign Office in London. The German government is disturbed about reports of the treatment of opposition leaders and called on Iran to stop intimidation of political opponents, Steffen Seibert, chief spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said yesterday. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also criticized Iran yesterday for pursuing policies of "tyranny at home."

The crackdown on Karrubi and Mousavi, who challenged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 2009 election, is aimed at stemming a revival of dissent in Iran as unrest roils the Middle East and North Africa. After Ahmadinejad's re- election, Iran was rocked by the biggest protests seen in the country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution as the opposition alleged his victory was rigged.

Karrubi and Mousavi, who had been under house arrest since mid-February, were transferred to a Tehran prison, Mousavi's website, Kaleme, said yesterday. The men and their wives were arrested and taken to Heshmatiyeh prison, according to Kaleme, which cited their neighbors. Reports of their arrest were rejected by an unidentified judicial official cited by the state-run Fars news agency.

Mehmanparast said the West must "hear and respect the voice of the majority of Iranians," who support the government and its policies, and not "divert the attention to a few people in the streets."

"God is great" and "Death to the dictator" were chanted from some rooftops in northern Tehran yesterday at about 10 p.m. local time. The slogans were also shouted from rooftops nightly by opposition supporters during the 2009 post-election rallies.

Protests that began after over the election have expanded to include criticism of the political system and government policies. Rallies resumed on Feb. 14 with Karrubi and Mousavi calling for a march in solidarity with demonstrators in other countries in the region following the ouster of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company