x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ayatollah blames protest organisers

While the Iranian supreme leader warns the regime will not back down, its foreign minister considers downgrading ties with Britain.

Iran's supreme leader warned that the regime would not back down in the face of opposition protests over the disputed presidential vote. "In the recent incidents concerning the election, I have been insisting on the implementation of the law and I will be (insisting). Neither the system, nor the people will back down under force," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said.

It was the latest indication that the clerical regime will not brook dissent over the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad despite a wave of public protests and complaints that the June 12 vote was rigged. The Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran is considering whether to downgrade ties with Britain in the latest diplomatic backlash over what Iran has branded 'Western meddling'. His comments came after the government expelled diplomats and Tehran increasingly pointing the finger at London over the street violence that erupted in the aftermath of the election.

Tehran has accused Britain, described by Khameini as the "most evil" of Iran's enemies, of plotting against the election and fomenting the unrest. It has expelled the BBC correspondent in Tehran and arrested a British-Greek journalist working for a US newspaper, one of at least two foreign reporters detained by the authorities. Iran's interior minister also took aim at the United States, saying rioters were being funded by the CIA and the exiled opposition group the People's Mujahedeen.

The US president Barack Obama, in his strongest comments yet, on Tuesday raised questions about the legitimacy of the election and expressed outrage over the violence against on opposition protesters. Iran has refused to overturn the results of the poll, but Mr Khamenei, who has ruled over the Islamic republic for 20 years, has extended today's deadline to examine vote complaints by five days. Tehran's streets remained tense but quiet, two days after the last opposition rally was crushed by hundreds of riot police armed with steel clubs and firing tear gas. Mr Mousavi, who was premier in the post-revolution era, has urged supporters to keep demonstrating but to use "self-restraint" to avoid further bloodshed while another defeated candidate Mehdi Karroubi called for a mourning ceremony for slain protesters tomorrow.

Another defeated candidate, former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai, has withdrawn his protest about election irregularities, in a blow to the opposition which has staged almost daily demonstrations since the vote. "(Iran's) political, social and security situation has entered a sensitive and decisive phase, which is more important than the election," Mr Rezai said in a letter to the Guardians Council, the top election body, today. The Guardians Council, a 12-member unelected body of Islamic clerics and jurists, insisted yesterday the election results would stand. The foreign media is banned from reporting from the streets under tight restrictions imposed since the unrest was unleashed, but images of police brutality have spread worldwide via amateur video over the internet. At least 17 people have been killed and many more wounded in the violence that has convulsed the nation since the vote, according to state media.

Many hundreds of protesters, prominent reformists and journalists have also been rounded up by the authorities, including some people close to top regime officials such as former president Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his daughter. * AFP