x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Obama calls on Iran to stop 'unjust' actions

The US President condemns Tehran's post-election response as reports reveal 13 people had been killed in clashes.

WASHINGTON // US President Barack Obama challenged Iran's government to halt a "violent and unjust" crackdown on dissenters, using his bluntest language yet to condemn Tehran's post-election response. His comments came as the English-language state television Press TV announced today that 10 people had been killed and 100 wounded in clashes in Tehran on Saturday. It did not give any further details. Earlier state television had reported that several people were killed when rioters torched a mosque in Tehran on Saturday but later denied anyone had died in the blaze.

Mr Obama has sought a measured reaction to avoid being drawn in as a meddler in Iranian affairs. Yet his comments have grown more pointed as the clashes intensified, and his latest remarks took direct aim at Iranian leaders. "We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people," Mr Obama said in a written statement. "The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights." Mr Obama has searched for the right tone in light of political pressures on all sides. On Capitol Hill, Congress pressed him to condemn the Iranian government's response.

In Iran, the leadership was poised to blame the US for interference and draw Mr Obama in more directly. Mr Obama met with advisers at the White House as developments in Iran grew more ominous, with police seen beating protesters. "Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away," the president said, recalling a theme from the speech he gave in Cairo, Egypt, this month. "The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.

"If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion." Mr Obama's comments came as protesters outside the White House waved Iranian flags and denounced Iranian government efforts to suppress the protesters. Protesters in Iran have demanded that government cancel and rerun the June 12 elections that ended with a declaration of overwhelming victory for hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi says he won and claimed widespread fraud. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said there was no ballot rigging. He warned of a crackdown if protesters continued their massive street rallies.

Yesterday, police in Iran beat protesters and fired tear gas and water cannons at thousands who rallied in open defiance of Iran's clerical government. Witnesses described fierce clashes after some 3,000 protesters chanted "Death to the dictator!" and "Death to dictatorship!" in downtown Tehran. Mr Obama's criticism came one day after both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly to condemn the actions by the Iranian government against demonstrators and moves to interfere with internet and cell phone communications. That was seen in part as a veiled criticism of Mr Obama's response, too.

The president already was on record as saying the United States stood behind those who were seeking justice in a peaceful way. He responded to critics that he had not been forceful enough in support of protesters, telling CBS News: "The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States. That's what they do."

That was Friday, before the conflict in Iran appeared to deepen. Mr Obama has refrained from passing final judgment on the underlying question of the legitimacy of the election itself, although he has expressed "deep concerns" about it. Yesterday Mr Obama returned to his theme that the world is watching the way the Iranian government responds and he cited Martin Luther King's statement that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice".

"I believe that," Mr Obama said. "The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian people's belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness." * AP