The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the first time for the punishment of opposition leaders over the unrest unleashed by his disputed re-election. "Serious confrontation should take place with the leaders and main instigators of the incidents. Those who provoked, organised and implemented the enemy's line should be confronted firmly," Mr Ahmadinejad said in a speech at Tehran Friday prayers carried live on state radio.
It is the first time Mr Ahmadinejad has made such a call against his political opponents, who claimed his re-election was fraudulent. "Those from lower ranks and the ones who were deceived should be treated with Islamic compassion," Mr Ahmadinejad added, drawing chants of "riot leaders should be executed" from the worshippers. Iran faced its worst crisis since the establishment of the Islamic republic in 1979 when hundreds of thousands took to the streets in week-long protests against the June 12 poll results during which about 30 people - and by opposition accounts 69 - were killed.
About 4,000 people were initially arrested and scores of senior reformists, journalists and opposition supporters have been put on trial on accusations of seeking a "soft" overthrow of the regime with foreign backing. Opposition leaders including presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have condemned the "show trials", refused to recognise Mr Ahmadinejad's presidency and vowed to continue protests.
The Islamic republic has faced further embarrassment by allegations that detained protesters have been raped and tortured. Iran shut down Kahrizak prison south of Tehran after at least two detainees died of injuries reportedly sustained in custody. Iran jailed several prison guards and vowed to prosecute them but the hardline president on Friday pointed an accusing finger at Iran's foreign enemies and the "overthrowing movement" over attacks on university dormitories and prisoner abuse.
"What happened in the dorms and detention centres was part of the enemy's scenario carried out by the dependants of the overthrowing movement," he charged. "Revolutionary forces are innocent of such shameful acts. "Our basijis were beaten up in the street as they were protecting people's rights," he said of Iran's hardline militia which played a key role in stifling street protests. *AFP