x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Silent protesters flood Tehran streets

Mir Hussein Mousavi defies the Iranian militia and sticks to his demand for a new election.

Mr Mousavi, centre right, and his wife Zahra Rahnavard, as they are surrounded by their supporters.
Mr Mousavi, centre right, and his wife Zahra Rahnavard, as they are surrounded by their supporters.

TEHRAN // Hundreds of thousands in people marched in Tehran for a sixth day yesterday to commemorate eight people killed during earlier protests, while the country's top legislative body invited the three defeated candidates in last week's disputed presidential election to a meeting tomorrow. Today's rally came as the Guardians Council said it was investigating a total of 646 complaints of irregularities in the conduct of the poll from Mir Hossein Mousavi and the other two losing candidates.

Protesters, many of them wearing black clothes and green wrist bands, filled several main squares and streets including Imam Khomeini Square, Ferdowsi Square and Enghelab Square in downtown Tehran, and the six-lane Enghelab Avenue. Men and women marched in silence and without any chanting, only holding signs in support of Mr Mousavi, the second-placed candidate in the elections. Some protesters held candles or flowers in their hands.

Mr Mousavi, also dressed in black, appeared among his supporters and talked to them briefly from the top of his car using a hand-held loudspeaker. According to witnesses, Mr Mousavi once again told his supporters that he was not going to give up his demand to have the election results cancelled.

Mehdi Karrubi, another defeated reformist candidate, also participated in the march, according to Ayandeh News. The crowds began to quietly disperse after about five hours, witnesses said, and there were no reports of any incidents. Similar rallies were held in other cities including Shiraz and Zahedan, BBC Persian television reported. The Association of Combatant Clerics, a major reformist political group headed by former president Seyed Mohammad Khatami, is planning to hold a rally tomorrow in protest of the election results. The group has applied for permission from the interior ministry to hold the rally.

Guardian Council spokesman Abbasali Khadkhodai said a "careful examination" of the 646 complaints from the three candidates had begun. "We decided to personally invite the esteemed candidates and those who have complaints regarding the election to take part in an extraordinary session of the Guardian Council on Saturday," he said. The council said a decision will be made on Sunday about any possible recount in the June 12 election, which returned hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

It is not known if the three candidates have accepted the invitation. The Guardian Council - made up of six clerics and six lawyers - is traditionally loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei. The council earlier this week said it would carry out a partial recount, but had ruled out a rerun of the poll demanded by Mr Mousavi. Mr Karrubi has also called on his supporters to attend today's prayers in Tehran which will be led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.

In a new letter to the election watchdog, Mr Karrubi yesterday questioned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's qualifications for running in the elections. Mr Karrubi claimed Mr Ahmadinejad lacked trustworthiness and piety, two major preconditions for qualifying to run as a candidate. Warning they would crush any "velvet revolution," the authorities have rounded up scores of people, including prominent reformists and even former government officials.

In the latest sweep, Iran arrested Ebrahim Yazdi and Mohammad Tavasoli, veteran revolutionaries and leaders of Iran's Liberation Movement, the Etemad Melli newspaper reported. But in a sign of cracks emerging within the Iranian elite, a number of influential clerics have spoken out about the election results and the subsequent crackdowns. Ayatollah Mehdi Hadavi Tehrani called yesterday for Sadeq Mahouli, the interior minister, to be impeached.

World powers have raised concern about the situation in Iran, particularly the violence and widespread arrests, with some European leaders publicly speaking of fraud and irregularities. The Iranian mission to the European Union hit back yesterday saying that foreign support for the opposition demonstrators "cannot be justified." Meanwhile, a daughter and son of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani have been barred from leaving the country over their alleged role in inciting disturbances since last week's presidential election, the Fars news agency reported yesterday.

"According to an informed source, Faezeh and Mehdi Hashemi were barred from leaving the country," Fars said without further identifying its source. "Their role was proven in inciting and organising some illegal gatherings, riots and destruction in recent days," it said. State television showed footage on Wednesday of Mr Rafsanjani's chador-clad daughter Faezeh talking animatedly among protesters in Tehran.

Mr Rafsanjani, who remains influential as the head of two top clerical and arbitration bodies, was believed to be a supporter of Mr Mousavi during the election campaign. In a candidates' debate on prime time television, Mr Ahmadinejad hit out at Mr Rafsanjani charging that his sons had received financial privileges. Faezeh Hashemi, 46, had been studying in Britain in recent years and returned to Iran a few months before the presidential election.

She is a former member of parliament and a fervent Mousavi campaigner. She is also a sports enthusiast and an outspoken advocate of equal rights for women. The clampdown on the media continues and the foreign ministry has issued a new warning to the foreign press, accusing some outlets of becoming the "mouthpiece of the rioters' movement". Pictures, videos and updates from the streets of Iran continue to pour in to social-networking and image-sharing websites despite Iranian efforts to cut off mobile phones and the internet.

msinaiee@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse