x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Mousavi calls day of mourning

The Iranian reformist calls for a day of mourning for those killed in clashes set off by the disputed presidential election.

TEHRAN // The Iranian reformist Mirhossein Mousavi called today for a day of mourning for those killed in clashes set off by the disputed presidential election as tens of thousands protested for the fifth straight day. Supporters of defeated candidate Mr Mousavi defied authorities in Tehran to demonstrate against the victory of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Friday's poll, which caused the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Street battles in Tehran killed at least seven people on Monday, according to state media. Other protests have flared up in cities across Iran. "A number of our countrymen were wounded or martyred," Mr Mousavi said, calling Thursday's day of mourning.

"I ask the people to express their solidarity with the families ... by coming together in mosques or taking part in peaceful demonstrations," Mr Mousavi said on his website. Bloodshed, mass protests, arrests and a media crackdown have focused world attention on the fifth-biggest oil exporter which is locked in a row over its nuclear programme with the West. After Mr Mousavi's web message, his supporters poured into Tehran's Haft-e Tir Square, ignoring an Interior Ministry warning, witnesses said. They were mostly dressed in black with wristbands and headbands in Mr Mousavi's green campaign colours. Most of the protesters, some holding pictures of him as well as green balloons, were silent and making victory signs. One young woman held a picture of one of those killed during post-election violence.

The mass protests are a direct challenge to the authorities who have kept a tight grip on dissent since the US-backed shah was overthrown in 1979 after months of protest. The political earthquake set off by Friday's vote prompted President Barack Obama, who had urged the Iranian leadership to "unclench its fist", to say the upheaval showed that "Iranian people are not convinced with the legitimacy of the election". Major Western nations have questioned the result's fairness. Discord within Iran's ruling system has never been so public. The Mousavi camp is backed by traditional establishment figures, such as former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, concerned about how Mr Ahmadinejad's truculent foreign policy and populist economics are shaping Iran's future. State television has said the "main agents" behind the turmoil have been arrested along with guns and explosives. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is to lead Friday prayers and is expected to repeat his appeal for calm. Iran's highest authority has already urged people to back Mr Ahmadinejad but despite Mr Khamenei's calls for national unity, Mousavi supporters have continued to pour on to the streets.

Mr Ahmadinejad said today that his re-election was proof of the people's faith in his previous four-year government. "The election result confirmed the work of the ninth government which was based on honesty and service to the people," the hardline president said in a statement carried on the ISNA news agency the day after his return from Russia. "Twenty-five million people confirmed this kind of management of the country and it is now engraved in the revolution," said Mr Ahmadinejad, referring to the number of votes he won in Friday's election according to official results.

A pro-reform activist and a newspaper editor were arrested today, a reformist source told Reuters, the latest in dozens of such detentions. The source said Saeed Laylaz, the editor of business daily Sarmayeh, and an activist Mohammadreza Jalaiepour were both arrested on Wednesday morning. Mr Jalaiepour was detained at Tehran's international airport, the source said. Mr Laylaz is also a political analyst often critical of the economic and other policies of Mr Ahmadinejad's government. He is widely quoted by foreign media.

Earlier this week, a leading reformer said police had detained more than 100 reformers, including a brother of former president Mohammad Khatami. Police denied Mr Khatami's brother had been arrested. Yesterday, leading reformist Mohammad Ali Abtahi was arrested, his office said. The same day, Iranian state television said the "main agents" in post-election unrest were arrested with explosives and guns.

An Iranian provincial prosecutor has warned that the "few elements" behind post-election unrest could face the death penalty under Islamic law. Mohammadreza Habibi, prosecutor-general in the central province of Isfahan, said these elements were controlled from outside Iran and urged them to stop "criminal activities", Fars News Agency reported. "We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution," Mr Habibi said.

"So before they are stricken with the law's anger they should return to the nation's embrace and avoid criminal measures and activities," he said. It was not clear if his warning applied to just Isfahan or the country as a whole. The rights group of Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi gave its backing today to the popular protests over the disputed election and called for an end to violence by security and militia forces.

"The Human Rights Defenders Centre firmly calls on government and senior officials to stop violence being committed by security and military institutions," the group said in a statement. "We have seen a massive violent crackdown across the country by the police, the Basij (Islamic militia), and plainclothes groups directed and organised by these institutions which has brought about appalling catastrophes.

"We call on our fellow citizens to keep their calm and pursue their civil and rightful demands without clashes and tension," the group said, noting that peaceful gathering is a right enshrined in Iran's constitution. Mr Ebadi's group, which is an outspoken critic of the human rights situation in Iran, has faced mounting pressure in recent months after its office was shut down in a police raid in December 2008.

* AFP and Reuters