x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Iran readies for protests

A tense Iran was gearing up today for more street protests against the disputed re-election of the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A tense Iran was gearing up today for more street protests against the disputed re-election of the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after authorities banned a nationwide march by his defeated rival. Mir Hossein Mousavi, a wartime prime minister who lost to Mr Ahmadinejad by a wide margin in Friday's vote, lodged a formal appeal on yesterday calling for the results of what he has branded a vote-rigged "charade" to be annulled.

But the interior ministry said it would not allow Mr Mousavi's supporters to hold a nationwide rally on Monday, after two days of street protests and some of the worst rioting in Tehran in a decade. "No authorisation for a march or gathering has been issued and any kind of gathering or march is illegal," a ministry official told reporters. The reformist Sarmayeh newspaper also reported that Mr Mousavi's newspaper Kalameh Sabz (Green Word) has been suspended and it was not available on news-stands in Tehran.

Mr Ahmadinejad himself addressed a victory rally of vast crowds of supporters in Tehran yesterday, defending the results of an election that has highlighted deep divisions in Iran after three decades of Islamic rule. "Elections in Iran are the cleanest," he said. "Today, we should appreciate the great triumph of the people of Iran against the united front of all the world arrogance (the West) and the psychological war launched by the enemy."

The authorities have warned that they would crush any "velvet revolution" in Iran and police said they have rounded up 170 people over the protests, including a number of reformist leaders. Relatives of those arrested protested outside Tehran's main revolutionary court. "You can beat us as much as you can, but take us to our children," shouted a woman as a policeman nearby was beat a man in order to disperse the crowd of about 200.

Riot police yesterday fired into the air to break up a demonstration, while about 200 of Mr Mousavi's supporters shouting "Death to the dictator" lobbed stones at police who fired back with tear-gas. On Saturday, Tehran witnessed widespread clashes between baton-wielding police and stone-throwing protesters who set bins and vehicles on fire in violence on a scale not seen since 1999 when student demonstrations led to a week of deadly nationwide unrest.

The 52-year-old hardline Mr Ahmadinejad insisted on his landslide victory before a massive sea of loyalists on Sunday, saying the election was like a football match and the loser should just "let it go". But Mr Mousavi, 67, who mustered a massive opposition movement of green-clad supporters but has not been since the election, said he has lodged an appeal with the powerful Guardians Council to cancel the results, alleging blatant irregularities and cheating.

The 12-member council will announce its decision on the election in 10 days, spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai said. US Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday there was "an awful lot of doubt" about the vote, but nevertheless reiterated Washington's willingness to engage in talks after three decades of severed ties. Washington has extended a hand for dialogue with Tehran since US President Barack Obama took office in January.

European nations voiced concern at what Germany called "unacceptable" action by security forces, while a number of media organisations have reported the arrest or harassment of their journalists covering the dramatic events. Amnesty International called for the Iranian authorities to immediately investigate the crackdown on demonstrators. "The shocking scenes of violence meted out by the security forces need to be urgently investigated and those responsible for human rights violations must be brought to justice," it said.