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Iran: Vote Recount, Clashes Leave 7 Dead

Some hundreds of thousands of supporters of leading opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims there was voting fraud in Friday's presidential election, turn out to protest the result of the election at a mass rally in Azadi (Freedom) square in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Some hundreds of thousands of supporters of leading opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims there was voting fraud in Friday's presidential election, turn out to protest the result of the election at a mass rally in Azadi (Freedom) square in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis) (Ben Curtis - AP)
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Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 16, 2009; 12:00 PM

Iran's influential Guardian Council agreed Tuesday to recount some ballots from last week's disputed presidential election, as pro- and anti-government demonstrators prepared to face off in a public square in the central part of the capital.

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Washington Post foreign correspondent Thomas Erdbrink, who is in Tehran, was online Tuesday, June 16, at Noon ET to report the latest news and take questions about the election and conflict.

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Thomas Erdbrink: As we are talking here, thousands of Mousavi supporters have gathered near Iran's state TV compound. Today foreign reporters were told that they are not allowed to do first hand reporting anymore, which makes life a bit harder for us here.

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Tampa, Fla.: I've read speculation that the clerics running Iran seriously fear a military coup. Is this true?

I've read in the past that the Supreme Leader is not in full control of Iran's military and security establishments. See Iran's inner and outer circles of influence and power (L.A. Times, Dec. 31, 2007)

Does Khamenei have anything to fear from the hardliners backing Ahmadinejad?

Thomas Erdbrink: The clerics who support Mir Hussein Mousavi's camp, often old and well known political figures here fear that their opponents, who support Ahmadinejad plan to take control over state institutions. It is unclear where the leader stands in this confrontation, but he has supported Ahmadinejad in the past on certain issues.

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New York, N.Y.: Is there any political polling in Iran, and if so, what is the status of such polling? Are the polls conducted by independent sources, what are their margins of error, and what did the polls indicate how Iranian voters were tending to vote?

Thomas Erdbrink: Polls are untrustworthy in Iran as they are carried out by partisan groups. I never use them in my reporting.

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Washington, D.C.: Has the name Obama popped up during protests in Iran? If yes, in what form?

Thomas Erdbrink: Not really no, people say the want 'change', but that seems to be an universal wish these days. Nobody mentions Obama for now.

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Wokingham, U.K.: Opposition to the radical Islamist Ahmedinejad seems to be coming from younger, more educated people in Tehran, people one might have thought would have grown up being indoctrinated in the very ideology for which Ahmedinejad stands. Is intellectual life in Iran more independent than we in the West tend to think?

Thomas Erdbrink: I do think that people in the west often misjudge the scale and intensity of cultural life here. Iran has a culture of reading, writing, and pursuing science. These people mostly don't make the headlines in the west, as we tend to focus on political comments by Iran's leaders. If the current debate over the election results proves anything, it is that Iran is a very vibrant society, especially compared to it's neighbors in the region.

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Washington, D.C.: Has there been any announcement from or about Hashemi Rafsanjani?

Thomas Erdbrink: His daughter Faezeh was among the demonstrators today, what he is doing I do not know.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Will the protests spark a real revolution in Iran? The first Twitter revolution!

Thomas Erdbrink: people here rarely use twitter.

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Baltimore, Md.: Re fraud in the elections: Presuming fraud was engineered, why did the incumbent president and those behind him feel it was sensible to engineer a landslide? All the press coverage leading up to the election said it was too close to call, yet the incumbent announced he won with, what, 63 percent of the vote? I don't get it. If he had claimed that he won with, say, 52 per cent of the vote, would there have been unrest? Thanks.

Thomas Erdbrink: 'What if'Is of course hard to answer, but maybe they tried to be convincing with such a result. I don't know, sorry.

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Raleigh, N.C.: I have a question about Ahmedinijad going to Russia. Was that stupid confidence on his part, projected confidence on his part, or plausible deniability for the coming crackdown?

Thomas Erdbrink: It's hard for me to speculate on why he did not cancel his trip. At departure he did not mention the protests to reporters, I was told.

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Austin, Tex.: Which means you cannot be seen gathering information, or recording it?

Thomas Erdbrink: Correct, I can make interviews from the office though.

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Atlanta, Ga.: It seems that the social networking sites Fark and Twitter have been way ahead of the traditional media in reporting this story, both in terms of breaking news and video content. Harbinger of the future or onetime isolated event?

Thomas Erdbrink: I had a Twitter account which received a lot of attention, but as some here say that foreign reporters are organizing the demonstrations I decided to delete the account. Generally there are not many Twitter users here in Iran, also the site is blocked.

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Washington, D.C.: I've been reading the Post's articles on the Iranian election since Saturday, and one blaring question reached my mind: Is the coverage of the Iranians as portrayed by western media genuine? Is there actually mass support for the "losing" candidate nationwide, or is it small pockets of protesters given national fame due to their endorsement of a pro-western candidate? Not saying this is necessarily the case, but coming from Iran, I figured you'd have the most genuine idea of what's actually happening in the country.

Thomas Erdbrink: We prepared for a long time for these elections and I have travelled extensively through the country. Mousavi was popular even in area's where Ahmadinejad was supposed to have many supporters.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Has the government crackdown on protests brought back any memories of the Shah's rule? Is U.S. credibility, including in its calls for democracy, still weakened by our putting the Shah in power in the first place and helping keep him there years? I wonder if some U.S. politicians now calling for democratic reform were among those who criticized Pres. Carter for not supporting the Shan strongly enough.

Thomas Erdbrink: I am no US policy expert I'm afraid.

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Baltimore, Md.: What role do you think the CIA played in the Iranian election, and subsequently, is playing with the protests? Thanks.

Thomas Erdbrink: I have no idea

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Herndon, Va.: I'm beginning to get the sense that the unrest in Iran is about different things to the titular "leader" of the movement, i.e. Mousavi, compared with those in the street. Is the core issue a matter of power, as in a grab by Ahmadinejad of the bureaucracy, or is it more of a classic democratic reform movement?

Thomas Erdbrink: Since this movement is still young, it is hard to label it, fact is that there is discontent over several issues, the economy, politics and the elections have been a focal point for many.

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Anonymous: Do you think the decision by Mousavi supporters to gather at the TV compound indicates their determination to take the compound and get their message out over the airwaves? What is likely to give next?

Thomas Erdbrink: We should see the coming hours if the y attempt to do that - they are in front of the compound right now.

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Wilmington, N.C.: Please tell me if you know what that structure is in the middle of Azadi Square. Thank You Much for answering my question .

Thomas Erdbrink: It's a monument build by the Shah, and one of Tehran's landmark structures.

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Washington, D.C.: The opposition has rejected a partial recount. Would they be open to a full and transparent recount? And do you encounter Ahmadinejad supporters in Teheran (or do they just exist in the official results)?.

Thomas Erdbrink: Yes there are Ahmadinejad supporters in Tehran, I don't know if they would accept a full recount, maybe.

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Washington, D.C.: You say people there rarely use Twitter. Yet, didn't the authorities fail to block it over the weekend and didn't a lot of news (according to NPR) get out from Iran via that way? Mousavi has been using it extensively. Are not his supporters doing the same?

Thomas Erdbrink: Twitter was blocked from Saturday, fact is that the media likes twitter but that here not too many (in this country of 68 million) use it. The software to bypass the filter makes the web very slow.

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Washington, D.C.: Rafsanjani is being cited in the media as a big force and a reformer. Some Iranian experts believe that Rafsanjani is a corrupt leader who has utilized his power gained after the "Islamic revolution" to get rich.

And is Mousavi really a reformer?

Thomas Erdbrink: Well both men have a past here in Iran, what is a real reformer?

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Washington, D.C.: To what extent is your reporting limited by the authorities. Can you speak more fully to this in light of their push-back against foreign journalists. Thanks.

Thomas Erdbrink: As I am writing this people are out again yelling God is great, the rally call for Mousavi.

As I said As of today I can't go officially into town without permission by the authorities.

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Savannah, Ga.: Mr. Erdbrink, head on over to Andrew Sullivan's site, The Daily Dish (The Atlantic, June 16), you will see hundreds of twitters (out of thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands). There is a very vocal (perhaps small) group of people using the heck out of Twitter. They are using proxy sites to defeat the blocks.

Thomas Erdbrink: Sure, but this is not my impression.

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Sterling, Va.: Mousavi, as I understand it, is not an ethnic Persian. How does this play out in Iran's national politics, and his relationship to Irans clerical leadership?

Thomas Erdbrink: Iran's supreme leader is also an ethnic Azeri. It means he probably has more supporters in those regions.

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Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Mr. Erdbrink, thanks for the chat and information. Does this uprising have any similarities or possible long-term consequences as the 1979 Revolution?

Thomas Erdbrink: Thank you! It depends who comes out on top, but there will be many consequences for many Iranian leaders and it's people.

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Atlanta, Ga.: The online community has been been providing proxy server information so that folks in Iran and elsewhere can get to social networking sites. It seems as if the traditional media has been ignoring the flood of photos, video and raw reporting coming out of the country. Very few mainstream sites correctly characterized the breadth of the demonstrations until midday Monday. Can you comment on why this has transpired? It may be that "few people" Twitter, etc., but those few seem to have done an awful lot of it, and included content to support their reporting.

Thomas Erdbrink: Proxy servers make the internet slow, but people get around and many photo's have been shown on channels like BBC Persian.

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washingtonpost.com: Map of Tehran Demonstrations

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Detroit, Mich.: I had heard that there was supposed to be a rally by Ahmadinijad supporters. I see no coverage of it on Post. Was it canceled?

Thomas Erdbrink: No it was not cancelled and I believe there is something up on the web, but I was prevented from going there.

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Washington, D.C.: The "God is great" call appears to be a not so subtle reminder of the 1978/9 revolution when Khomeini's supporters used it. While a common refrain in Islamic societies. Do you think the use of it by Mousavi's supporters this time is their way of saying that they are more true to the message of the revolution and that it has been compromised by those in power in Iran today?

Thomas Erdbrink: That's what they mean, they also do it to put pressure on the government by using 'tools' from the 1979 revolution.

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Woburn, Mass.: Have the ruling cleric painted themselves into a corner so that they can not order a new election?

Thomas Erdbrink: They are in a difficult position, it seems that the only way out of this is by important people losing face and power.

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Washington, D.C.: To us in the West, the "stealing" of this election seems so blatant. At least other world dictators have managed to assume or consolidate power without such a blatant use of fraudulent practices.

Thomas Erdbrink: Iran's revolution was not only about Islam, it was also about citizenship rights. People feel strongly about their rights, especially the middle class.

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Washington, D.C.: I wonder how are you managing there. I see reports of foreign journalists being asked to leave the country. It cannot be safe out there, the regime there does not even care about its own citizens.

Thomas Erdbrink: Thanks, I've been here for some years now and I feel safe enough to work, this is an important story. The whole situation is highly dynamic so I'm waiting to see what the coming days will bring.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks, stay safe and keep up the good reporting.

Thomas Erdbrink: Thank you all so much for your interest,

All best,

Thomas Erdbrink

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