x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Iran protest organiser backs down

A planned protest rally appears to have been called off after threats of 'a harsh response'.

One of the organisers of a mass rally in Tehran has backed down after authorities threatened a harsh response, but it was unclear if everyone involved would stay off the streets. The reformist Combatant Clerics Assembly said: "permission was asked to hold a rally, but since it has not been issued, there will be no rally held." The change of mind came as the Guardians Council electoral watchdog offered to randomly recount up to 10 per cent of the ballot boxes from the disputed June 12 presidential election, state television said.

The interior ministry said no rally anywhere in the country was authorised and warned that "those who violate this will be confronted according to the law". An aide to the defeated candidate Mehdi Karroubi had earlier said his supporters planned to go ahead with a rally but later said he was unsure whether they will demonstrate or not. Police said the organisers of any future rallies would be arrested, with the police chief saying firm action would be taken against any demonstration.

An aide to Mr Karroubi had told AFP early today that a rally would be held in Tehran at 4pm (11.30am GMT). That came despite the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday demanding an end to marches and warning that candidates would be "responsible for the blood, violence and chaos". The Guardians Council made its partial recount offer after meeting to study the 646 alleged poll violations registered by the three defeated candidates - the former parliament speaker Karroubi, the former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi and the ex-Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai.

Neither Mr Mousavi nor Mr Karroubi showed up at the meeting, Press TV reported, without saying why. Early this afternoon, Mr Mousavi's newspaper website said he would soon make an "important" announcement, but did not elaborate. However, powerful former president and Mr Mousavi supporter Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani denied reports that he too was to issue a statement. In demanding an end to protests, the Ayatollah warned that otherwise there could be further bloodshed beyond the seven deaths reported by state radio.

Amnesty International said on Friday it had information of up to 10 deaths. Beyond the Ayatollah's general warning, Mr Mousavi was singled out by the head of Iran's security council today for a specific one. "Your national duty tells you to refrain from provoking illegal gatherings," Abbas Mohtaj, who is also deputy interior minister, said in a letter to him. "Should you provoke and call for these illegal rallies you will be responsible for the consequences," he said.