x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Mousavi stands his ground

Iranian opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi demands new election and calls rally to mourn deaths.

Iranians living in Dubai gather outside their consulate for a third day to protest against the election result.
Iranians living in Dubai gather outside their consulate for a third day to protest against the election result.

TEHRAN // Iran's opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi repeated his call for the annulment of Saturday's election results yesterday despite an agreement by the country's election watchdog to a partial recount of the ballots, as tens of thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets for a fifth day.

The development came as Reporters Without Borders reported the arrests and disappearances of dozens of journalists and reformists. Mr Mousavi, who has called the elections and vote counting a "shameful fraud", has adamantly refused to accept the partial recount of the vote despite promises of a fair investigation into the results by the Guardian Council, Iran's electoral watchdog. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei met the representatives of the candidates on Tuesday and ordered that the recount, expected within the next 10 days, take place in the presence of representatives of the candidates.

Meanwhile, in a letter to the interior minister, the conservative candidate Mohsen Rezai, the only defeated candidate who had not yet called for the annulment of the elections, threatened to challenge the official outcome of last Friday's election if the interior ministry did not provide the details of the vote count in individual ballot boxes before the end of working hours yesterday. At least six members of the Iranian national football team playing in World Cup qualifiers against South Korea in the capital, Seoul, wore green wristbands, the signature colour of the opposition.

Millions of Iranians were watching the game live on state-run television. All players except the captain of the team removed the wrist bands after allegedly being intimidated by security officials. The BBC showed dozens of Iranian fans in the Seoul stadium protesting during the game by unfurling banners with anti-Ahmadinejad slogans and holding up placards reading "Where is my vote?" Preparing for stronger displays of support from disillusioned voters, Mr Mousavi has called a mass demonstration for today to mourn the deaths of at least eight people killed on Monday. Spontaneous rallies and marches have continued since Sunday, and thousands of Mousavi supporters staged another rally at Tehran's 7-Tir Square yesterday despite a ban by the interior ministry on "illegal gatherings".

Footage sent to the BBC showed tens of thousands of people marching silently over a bridge on the way to the square, with witnesses reporting up to 500,000 attended the rally. In a statement released yesterday, Mr Mousavi said he would take part in today's demonstration himself. In a separate statement yesterday, he also dismissed allegations that foreign countries were involved in the opposition movement, underlining its peaceful nature.

"With the assistance of the state-run broadcasting organisation, the government is accusing the Green Wave [opposition] of dependence on foreign countries. The Green Wave of our protests is only the echo of an independent and justified demand and does not welcome interference from others," Mr Mousavi said in his statement. Stressing peaceful methods to achieve "victory and recognition of the violated rights of the nation", he also condemned the arrests of dozens of opposition leaders and activists and alleged that setting fire to banks, government offices and people's property was the work of the rival camp.

Expressions of solidarity with the opposition continued to emerge in unexpected ways, including a protest by a popular singer against the broadcast of his patriotic song on a state-run television channel. In a letter to the head of the state-run television, which is accused of promoting Mr Ahmadinejad and endorsing the election fraud, the popular traditional musician Mohammad Reza Shajarian demanded yesterday that they stop broadcasting his songs. "My song Iran belongs to the year 1979 and has no connection to the present circumstances," Mr Shajarian wrote. The song recalling the days of the 1979 revolution has been played by state TV frequently during and after the elections.

A war is meanwhile being fought in cyber space between the government and opposition supporters. The elite Revolutionary Guards yesterday warned opposition internet users of "serious legal action" if they incited riots or propagated rumours online. Since the vote tally was announced during the early hours of Saturday, many news portals and websites affiliated with the opposition have been blocked by the authorities, and internet and mobile phone access have been severely impaired.

Iranian internet users have been frantically uploading videos to YouTube and other video-sharing sites and sending updates of goings-on to the outside world via social messaging website Twitter; the site's Iranelections tag was registering dozens of updates a minute. "Ahmadinejad called us dust," one Iranian user wrote. "We showed him a sandstorm." msinaiee@thenational.ae