x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Ayatollah Khamenei: protest leaders 'not foreign agents'

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says he does not believe the leaders of opposition protests were agents of foreigners.

TEHRAN // Iran's supreme leader does not believe the leaders of opposition protests that erupted after the country's June presidential vote were agents of foreigners. Iranian officials have previously portrayed the protests as a foreign-backed bid to topple the clerical establishment. They have accused Western powers, particularly the United States and Britain of fomenting the unrest, a charge denied by Washington and London.

"I do not accuse the leaders of recent events as being the agents of foreigners, including America and Britain because it has not been proven to me," Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying by state television. "But there is no doubt that this movement, whether its leaders know or not, was planned in advance," Ayatollah Khamenei said in a meeting with university students.

Some hardliners have repeatedly called for the arrest of opposition leaders who say the vote was rigged to secure the re-election of the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The former president Mohammad Khatami said trial confessions by moderates accused of fomenting the post-election unrest were made under "extraordinary conditions" and were invalid, an Iranian news agency reported. At Tuesday's trial, the fourth since the June polls, senior reformer and Khatami ally Saeed Hajjarian was reported as saying he had "made major mistakes during the election by presenting incorrect analyses".

"I apologise to the Iranian nation for those mistakes." A prosecutor demanded maximum punishment for Mr Hajjarian who is accused of acting against national security, a crime which can carry the death sentence. "These confessions are invalid and have been obtained under extraordinary conditions ... such claims are sheer lies and false," Mr Khatami, who backed the main moderate candidate in the election, was quoted as saying by the ILNA news agency.

Also in the dock on Tuesday were several other moderate figures, including the former deputy interior minister Mostafa Tajzadeh and the former deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh - both of whom held their positions under Mr Khatami. All were charged with fomenting huge street protests that followed the June presidential election that returned hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. *AFP